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Posted July 24, 2023 by Evan Howe, M.D.
Summer often brings some much-needed fun in the sun. Longer days lead to outdoor activities for the whole family. However, summer months also bring forth a host of health safety concerns. Here are six concerns to recognize and tips on how to have a safe and enjoyable summer.
We all love to catch some rays but too much time in the sun can make for a painful sunburn. Usually within a few hours, skin reddens and becomes painful to the touch. A normal sunburn can be handled with some aloe and moisturizer to ease the symptoms, but if you have blisters and swelling, it could take longer to heal and should be treated by a healthcare professional to avoid scarring and infection.
Avoid sunburn by limiting time in the sun, especially during mid-day. When you are out in the sun, remember to slather on that sunscreen – SPF 30 or higher – before you go out in the sun and repeating every 90 minutes while exposed, especially after swimming or sweating. Children are particularly susceptible to sunburn, and burns can increase their lifetime risk for skin cancer.
As temperatures and humidity rise, so do the dangers of heat illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700 people are killed by extreme heat every year in this country.
The good news is with proper precautions, most heat illnesses can be prevented. The best way to prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke is to stay hydrated and limit your time in the sun. Wear lightweight, loose and light-colored clothing and shift your time outdoors to the coolest times of the day and be sure to take frequent breaks from the heat to cool yourself down and rehydrate with water. Limit the use of sports drinks for rehydration as the extra sugars in these can cause other health problems.
Mosquito bites, tick bites and bee stings all present frustrating encounters with nature.
Those itchy little mosquito bites can be more than just annoying – mosquitos can carry diseases like West Nile virus. Travel is common in the summer and mosquito bites in other areas of North America can also put you at risk for Dengue fever and Chikungunya virus. Protect yourself by covering up when you go into wet or wooded areas and don’t be a stranger to insect repellent. Infants two months and older can safely use insect repellent with less than 30% DEET. Contact your healthcare provider if the mosquito bites seem to occur with warning signs of a serious condition. These might include a high fever, severe headache, body aches and signs of infection.
Ticks continue to increase in northeast Ohio. These are traditionally found in areas with high grasses but can be found anywhere outdoors. These bugs start out small when they attach to your skin but swell as they continue to feed. Check yourself and pets after being outside. If they can be removed easily you may do so but ensure that the entire tick is removed. If you have any concern about part of the tick being attached or think that the tick had been on you for more than 24 hours, seek medical attention. Diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be prevented or treated if found early.
We know that bees are an important part of keeping our gardens growing, but it’s never fun to get stung. Most stings just itch and swell a little and can easily be treated by removing the stinger, cleaning the site, applying ice and taking an antihistamine. That being said, if you have an allergy a sting can be really dangerous. If you know you are allergic, make sure to keep an epinephrine injector with you at all times. If you get stung and start to have a reaction, have someone give you the shot and get immediate medical care, even if you are feeling better as a rebound reaction can occur.
Fireworks, bonfires and grilling are more common in the summer, which increases the risk of a burn. If you do get burned and it’s smaller than a quarter, rinse with cool running water for at least 20 minutes. Cover any open areas loosely with gauze and secure with tape. Keep an eye on the burn so it doesn’t get infected and change the dressing daily. If the burn is over a large portion of your body or if your skin becomes numb, white, waxy or charred, visit an ER immediately. Any burn on the hands, feet or face should be addressed by a healthcare professional in a timely manner.
What matters most when you’ve been cut is what did the deed – if you’ve come in contact with a rusty nail, glass or a splinter of wood, you may need a tetanus shot. If it’s just a scrape, run it under water for at least two minutes, pat dry, cover with gauze and secure. If the cut is still bleeding after 10 to 15 minutes of pressure or it is very deep or gaping, it’s time to visit a healthcare professional.
Drowning is a very serious summer risk. Make sure that you know your abilities when in the pool or lakes. Even if you are on a boat, plan for how you will get out safely if you fall in by wearing a life jacket and dressing appropriately for the water temperature. Having a life jacket on a boat but not wearing it may not be helpful if you get separated. If you are unsure of your swimming ability, find a local class to improve your swimming skills.Of course, as much as you try to avoid summertime hazards, they can always sneak up on you. Summa Health’s team of primary care providers is available for appointments, either virtual or in person. Schedule an appointment if you have a concern. To learn more, visit summahealth.org/primarycare.