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How Red Tide Could Affect Kids

Posted on Jul 22, 2021

Red tide in St. Petersburg, Florida

Summer time heat has many in Florida heading to the beach. However, on parts of the west coast there have been red tide blooms affecting some popular gulf beaches. Red tide is a harmful algae bloom that can cause water to look red or brown. It produces chemicals that can affect our breathing but also affects marine life, many times killing fish and other animals.

It can be a smelly situation, and potentially a scary sight for kids coming across dead fish in the water or along the shore. Ebony Hunter, M.D., a pediatric emergency medicine physician, breaks down what families really need to know about red tide this season and how it affects kids and their respiratory systems.

Should I avoid the beach during red tide bloom?

It might be a good idea to avoid an area beach if someone in your family has asthma or other respiratory problems. Especially if an area has dead fish present, the scent in the air could affect your breathing. Children with respiratory issues going outdoors around red tide could also consider wearing a mask.

For others visiting a beach with red tide though, be sure to stay away from dead fish and definitely don’t swim in the water if you see a lot of the classic red tide effects. Also, if you notice your child coughing or they complain of a sore throat, it may be a good idea to head indoors to see if those symptoms improve with proper A/C ventilation.

What are symptoms I should watch for if my child has been exposed to red tide?

Most people may experience a mild cough or irritated throat, but for others, red tide could include eye irritation, sneezing, coughing, shortness of breath or even vomiting, particularly if your child has a respiratory condition like asthma. Again, if you’re outdoors near an area affected by red tide and experiencing these symptoms, heading indoors to the A/C most likely will improve those symptoms. If it doesn’t or symptoms appear worse, then it’s time to head to the Emergency Center.

Should my family avoid fish or shellfish in red tide affected areas?

The local health department advises against eating shellfish and any dead or distressed fish affected by red tide. If you are catching and preparing fish to eat from areas with red tide, it’s important to ensure the fish are healthy and are rinsed and properly cleaned. Although it’s uncommon, if you experience any strong respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms, such as ongoing diarrhea or vomiting, after eating fish from the area it may be time head to an Emergency Center.

For more up to date information on red tide in the gulf, visit the Health Department’s website.

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