Spending more time outdoors on bikes, scooters and skateboards? Don’t forget to wear a helmet.
One of the really positive things to come out of this COVID-19 era is a surge in the number of children and families who are regularly active — riding bikes, scooters and skateboards. Even roller skates and Rollerblades have made an exciting comeback.
As children go back to school, largely through distance learning, there will be an even greater incentive to take breaks and exercise outdoors.
While this increased activity has wonderful health benefits, we have seen a disturbing trend related to helmets. Some parents and children have made the decision not to regularly wear a helmet, significantly increasing their chances of a concussion or a serious brain injury if they fall or are in an accident.
In fact, our trauma team at Mission Hospital saw the number of people we treat for bike, scooter, skateboard and roller-skating injuries, including concussions due to not wearing a helmet, double this summer. And we’re not alone — emergency rooms and trauma centers across the county have seen an increase in these injuries.
The good news is that it’s easy for parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents to help protect children of all ages (and themselves) from injury by wearing a helmet. While there is no concussion-proof helmet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is still one of the best ways to protect kids, teens and adults from a serious brain or head injury.
When to Introduce a Helmet
It is very important to introduce the consistent use of a helmet at a very young age. This can be when your child receives their first tricycle or scooter. While they might initially resist, wearing a helmet will become second nature and your child will learn to wear a helmet every time they ride. This becomes important as they grow and become more adventurous.
Finding a Good Helmet
So, how do you find the right helmet?
First and foremost, it’s extremely important to make sure that the helmet fits correctly. Use a soft measuring tape to measure your child’s head. Then, compare the measurements to the size chart on the helmet you are looking to purchase. Also, remember that your child’s helmet size might change based on the brand.
Make sure that your child’s helmet fits snugly all around their head. For example, there should not be space between the foam on the back and front of his or her head. If your child has long hair that is worn in a ponytail or has recently gotten a haircut, make sure to double-check the fit before they get on a bike, skateboard or scooter.
If your helmet is giving your child a headache, loosen the chin straps or remove a couple of the foam pads. Lastly, make sure that the helmet sits evenly on your child’s head and that vision isn’t obstructed straight ahead or to the side.
Your child should never ride a bike, scooter or skateboard, or roller skate with a broken/cracked helmet or one that is missing parts. This puts your child at a greater risk for developing a head injury if they fall.
If you need to clean the helmet, use warm water and mild detergent. Do not use strong cleaners, soak the helmet or place it close to high heat, such as a hair dryer.
Always make sure to inspect your child’s helmet before placing it on their head. And, never store a helmet in the car. Instead, store it in a place that doesn’t get too hot or cold and is out of direct sunlight.
If your child’s helmet has been damaged or was worn in a crash, immediately replace it. Helmets are designed to protect a rider or skater’s head from one serious impact. You might not be able to see the damage with the naked eye, but it is there.
So, parents, please set a good example and wear a helmet. Our children are watching the important decisions we make.
By Dr. Tetsuya Takeuchi
Tetsuya Takeuchi, MD, FACS is the trauma medical director at Mission Hospital, which is the only trauma center in South Orange County and certified to care for adults and children.
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(Opening photo courtesy of Amber Faust/Unsplash)