Little monsters are taking over the planet and if you have kids, we’re sure you’ve already joined them in helping to keep the peace. Launched in early July 2016, Pokémon Go is a free-to-play mobile app game and one of the first to use “augmented reality” to keep players engaged while on-the-go. Since Pokémon have moved from the virtual world to the real world, there are some new, not-so-obvious health dangers parents should consider before heading out with their little Trainers to catch ‘em all.
Slips, Trips & Falls
Your favorite Pokémon characters like to pop up in odd places and your kids might be tempted to reach them. However, there are dangers in being distracted by a device’s screen as players move in the real world. Teach kids to always be mindful of the path ahead.
The game is GPS-driven, so it knows where you are. But that doesn’t mean it has a good grasp on the actual terrain around you. Like the GPS you use to find a route when driving—it knows where you are on the map, but not about that huge pothole 20 feet ahead.
Recent news headlines have highlighted serious injuries, from walking into oncoming traffic to falling off of cliffs. Like any outdoor activity, players need to watch out for things like fallen branches, rusty metal and broken glass. Also, advise kids to take notice of broken fences or missing signs that might alert them to areas they should avoid.
Remember that broken bones, deep cuts, cuts as a result of rusty metal, injuries to the head, and injuries to the eyes should be assessed immediately and treated by a medical professional.
Some Pokémon are water-friendly and that can be fun! A catch might be around a landmark fountain or even at the edge of a lake or pool. While you will never have to enter the water to make your catch, you should keep your eye on smaller Trainers as they play nearby. Struggles from drowning can occur in as little as 20 seconds before submersion.
Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke
With Pokémon Go, you can forget about the days of playing video games in the comfort of your air-conditioned home. In the heat of the summer, high body temperatures and water loss can result in dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Both dehydration and heat exhaustion can be usually be resolved by resting, getting to a cool place and drinking plenty of fluids.
Heat stroke, however, requires emergency medical attention. If your child shows any combination of the following, call 9-1-1:
- Lack of sweating (when you should be)
- Skin that’s hot and dry to the touch
- Severe fatigue
- Dizziness, fainting or confusion
- Sudden and severe headache
- Muscle or abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
Digital eye strain as a result of prolonged use of computers, tablets, e-readers, cellphone screens, and TVs is a real condition! There are both physical and mental symptoms associated with digital eye strain, including:
- Sensitivity to light
- Burning/stinging eyes
- Blurred vision and difficulty focusing
- Sore neck
- Decreased ability to concentrate
- Reduced productivity
While Pokémon Go keeps you and your kids active, it’s hard to avoid intently focusing on your screen for your latest catch. Medical experts recommend taking 20 minute breaks every 20 minutes. Tip: Set an alarm or timer on your phone to remind kids to look up!
Sunburn & Sun Damage
Gathering things is human nature and collecting Pokémon is what makes the game addictive to so many. Given that the game’s premise takes you off the couch and into a real-world adventure to play, your kids will be asking to go outside more often (which is great). But, that also means more exposure to the sun.
Sunburns are not only annoying and painful, they also mean that the skin has been damaged. Sunburns at any age increase the risk of skin cancer later in life and a painful burn just once every 2 years may as much as triple the risk of skin cancer. And skin damage can occur from sun exposure even without a sunburn forming too.
To avoid sunburn, apply a sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply frequently. Also, avoid going outside when the sun is strongest (usually 10 a.m to 2 p.m.). Choose a sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
Bug & Animal Bites
Unlike the virtual creatures you and your family will encounter while playing Pokémon Go with your family, you might encounter real bugs and animals that can pack a powerful bite! While most insect bites and stings are little more than an annoyance, some are more dangerous. Bites and stings can become emergencies if there is an allergic reaction or the area becomes infected.
If players wander into wooded areas or unfamiliar yards, there’s also the risk of animal bites, ranging from the neighbor’s dog to snakes. Any animal bite should receive immediate medical attention.
If you think emergency care is required, try to remember as many details about the bite as possible: when and where it happened, what the creature looked like, and any reactions or behaviors that are out of the ordinary. This will give emergency staff the information they need to provide accurate treatment and get you back outside playing again as soon as possible.
Mental & Behavioral Health
Although not an official diagnosable disorder in the United States, video game addiction is becoming more commonly recognized as the popularity of gaming increases. There is increasing evidence that people of all ages, especially teens and pre-teens, can face serious consequences associated with compulsive use of video and computer games.
Children who replace homework, socializing or sports time with video games have less time to do activities that benefit their social and emotional development. Here are two signs to watch for:
- Your child puts up a fight that is more concerning than expected when you ask them not to play
- Their behavior is noticeably more irritable or miserable when other distractions are introduced.
Aside from potential health hazards, there are general safety concerns that parents are encouraged to discuss with their children. Kids who are excitedly playing the game may wander off on their own, wander into unfamiliar territory or trespass on private property. Set up some guidelines for kids before they play, encourage the buddy system and check in on them regularly.
Then there are concerns of “stranger danger.” Any activity that attracts kids can also attract predators. It’s worth another age-appropriate talk with your kids in the context of this new activity.
Getting Emergency Care
The success of Pokémon Go means that similar augmented reality games will soon be on the way, meaning a lot more fun (and probably a few new risks) for players of all ages. The important thing is to have fun, stay safe and don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if needed.