The kids in my neighborhood are officially out of school for the summer. The quiet side streets are filled with the sounds of children riding their bikes and playing basketball. It won’t be too long until I hear them playing Marco Polo from their backyard pools. It makes me miss the days of hanging out with my neighborhood pals.
The start of summer makes children feel energetic and excited. But for kids with juvenile arthritis (JA), the warm weather might bring additional challenges. While it’s not uncommon for feet, ankles, and hands to swell up in the heat, those already dealing with JA swelling will experience further discomfort.
Though there’s not much you can do to prevent your child’s hands and feet from swelling in the heat, there are ways you can make the symptom more bearable:
Summer is not a good time to break in new shoes or sandals for anyone, let alone kids with JA. I almost always have blisters on my feet and ankles during the summer thanks to excessive swelling. I don’t even have to walk far to get blisters, so long as my shoe is tight in a spot where my foot swells.
For kids with JA, some shoes may be more comfortable than others. Growing up, I knew a lot of kids with JA who preferred foam flip-flops because they allowed their feet to swell. But flip-flops didn’t provide me with adequate support — since I was a little kid, I’ve spent every summer in Earth Shoes or sneakers. Each kid is unique and should be encouraged to wear shoes that feel comfortable in the heat. It can also be helpful to keep a spare pair of shoes in the car during day trips, just in case the ones they’re wearing start to feel painful.
The hot summer months are not a good time for wearing rings and bracelets. Even if your hands are OK in the morning, they may swell up as the day goes on and jewelry may get stuck or even cut off circulation. I can’t count how many rings my parents have struggled to remove from my fingers.
Advise your child to avoid wearing rings or tight bracelets during the summer. For special events, consider gifting your child a small, travel-size jewelry box. That way, they can wait to put on their accessories until they arrive at the event. The box also acts as safe storage in case the jewelry bothers your child and they want to remove it.
If your child insists on wearing jewelry, encourage them to choose loose-fitting accessories. Bracelets with clasps are much easier to get off than bangles. I’ve nearly broken my Alex and Ani bracelets from trying to remove them when my hands were swollen. Silicone rings are also a good alternative and are popular with adults who have arthritis.
Other ways to help
It’s hard to avoid swelling during the summer, but there are many ways you can help or at least make it more bearable. You can plan “cool-down” breaks in the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest. On vacation, go for afternoon swims or take long lunches in an air-conditioned restaurant. At home, you could set up a sprinkler in a shady spot to allow your child to play without catching too much sun. Or, you could rest inside and watch movies next to the fan. As a child, I spent many summer afternoons indoors, coloring or doing crafts while enjoying the relief from the heat.
It can also be helpful to keep cold compresses on hand. Freeze or refrigerate cold packs, or use a bag of ice wrapped in a towel at home. If you’re on the go, buy instant cold packs that don’t need to be kept chilled. Instead, they can be activated by shaking when needed. They’re handy while on vacation.
Summer break is a time for kids with JA to rest, relax, and just be kids. There are many ways to make the season special, even if your child doesn’t tolerate the heat well. Some of my favorite day trips didn’t require going outdoors; these included visits to the science museum, swimming at the YMCA, workshops at my local library, and outings to the arcade. And sure, I did play indoors a lot, but I still had a lot of fun. I made up games, built forts, took up sewing, learned to play an instrument, and engaged in many other enjoyable activities over my summer vacation. It wasn’t the time in the sun that mattered to me — it was doing things that I enjoyed while allowing my body to rest.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.