Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of summer. The sun is out, the beaches are open and the kids are in their last weeks of school. To make sure this summer is a great one for you and your family, here is our guide to preventing — and treating — some of the season’s health hazards.
By Kristen Hetland
Anyone who’s spent a long day out in the summer sun is more than likely familiar with sunburn.
How Do I Get It? Sunburn is literally a burn to the skin caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays and anyone can get it from being out in the sun.
How Do I Know It’s Sunburn? Sunburn is recognized by red or reddish skin in areas that have recently been exposed to the sun. The skin is hot to the touch and often painful. Other symptoms include peeling skin or blisters where the burn was most severe. Individuals with fair or light-colored skin are at a greater risk of sunburn injury.
Prevention: If you’re going to be out in the sun, the best way to protect yourself is to apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before heading outside.
For the most complete protection, apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher that has both UVA and UVB protection to shield your skin from both the sun’s burning rays (UVB rays) and it’s aging rays (UVA rays) that are connected to melanoma skin cancers. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock and Coppertone UltraGuard Sunscreen Lotion are good ones to try. Both offer broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection. If you plan to be active or go in the pool, make sure you use a sweatproof/waterproof sunscreen, like Banana Boat Sport Performance Active MAX Protect.
For best application, use about a tablespoon of sunscreen to cover your entire face and ears, and use about a shot glass full to cover each of the other exposed parts of your body. Reapply every three hours.
• Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin are helpful in reducing pain, especially when taken early on.
• Aloe vera gel helps to cool and calm the skin as well as reduce pain and promote healing. The gel forms a protective layer on the skin that seals in valuable moisture, preventing dehydration and promoting faster healing.
• For mild sunburn, cool compresses with equal parts milk and water calm the skin. Apply to the sunburned area for 15-20 minutes at a time.
• Avoid scrubbing or shaving the skin.
• Of course, stay out of the sun while you’re sunburned.
For severe burns, see your doctor.
Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac
For anyone who’s had a run-in with poison ivy, oak or sumac while exploring the Great Outdoors, you know it’s no picnic. The rash that results is uncomfortable and itchy and lasts for weeks – usually ruining a family vacation for those affected.
How Do I Get It? When your skin rubs up against any part of a poison ivy, oak or sumac plant—the leaves, stems, flowers, berries and even the roots—the urushiol oil emitted by the plant is deposited on your skin and absorbed into your pores. Urushiol oil is an allergen and the rash that develops is your body’s allergic reaction to it.
You do not need to come in direct contact with the plant to get a rash. Urushiol oil that’s rub off on clothing, pet fur, gardening tools or other objects can later be transmitted to you and lead to the development of a rash as well.
How Do I Know It’s Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac? The rash that results from exposure to poison ivy, oak or sumac is red, uncomfortable and itchy. It usually shows up in streaks or lines and is marked by fluid-filled bumps (blisters) or large raised areas (hive). The rash usually appears about eight to 48 hours after contact with the urushiol oil. (Note: the first time you come in contact with urushiol, it may take more than a week for your skin to develop a rash. On subsequent contacts, it may only take one to two days.)
Serious symptoms include swelling of the face, mouth neck, genitals or eyelids and/or widespread, large blisters that ooze large amounts of fluid. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
Prevention: Know what the plants look like and stay away from them (pictures). If you know you’re going to be in areas that have the plants, wear heavy clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and vinyl gloves for added protection.
Some relief: The rash is not contagious. By the time it appears, the urushiol has already been absorbed or washed off the skin and so even if you touch the rash or the bister fluid, you will not spread the rash to new areas or carriers.
• If you know you have come in contact with one of the plants, wash the affected area with water immediately.
• To relieve rash symptoms, use wet compresses and take cool baths. Nonprescription antihistamines and calamine lotion may also help.
• Without treatment, the rash will usually last about 10 days to three weeks. If the person is very sensitive to the urushiol oil, the rash may take up to six weeks to heal.
• Most rashes can be successfully treated at home, but for mild cases, see your doctor for prescriptions for anti-itch crèmes and medications.
Aside from the curious child with a magnifying class and a plastic bug box, most of us don’t enjoy the company of bugs. They fly around our kitchens, crawl around our picnics and buzz around our lights. And while we may find them annoying, they are generally pretty harmless and we just learn to just live with them… until they attack us.
What Is It and How Do I Get It? Bug bites are not pleasant. When an insect feels in danger, it may sting or bite you in defense. A sting or bite injects venom into your bloodstream, which causes redness and swelling at the site and, depending on the insect, can trigger an allergic reaction in some people.
How Do I Know It’s a Bug Bite/Sting? While symptoms vary depending on the insect, most bites and stings cause redness, swelling, pain and itching at the injection site. The skin is usually broken and can become infected if the site is scratched.
Severe reactions to a bug bite or sting include hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, unconsciousness and even death within 30 minutes. If you are exhibiting any of these signs, see a doctor immediately.
Prevention: Most bug bites or stings from insects are defensive in nature, meaning we somehow provoked them to attack us. To play it safe, if there is an insect in your tent or somewhere near you, move away from the insect or try gently to lead it to another area, rather than swat at it or try to kill it, which will anger it.
• For minor bug bites that only involve redness and pain at the site, clean the area with soap and water, apply ice to reduce initial swelling and let the wound heal naturally.
• For uncomfortable itching, use an over-the-counter antihistamine (like Benadryl cream or pills) or Calamine lotion.
• Resist the urge to scratch the affected area to prevent causing an infection at the site.
We all like to have fun and be active outside, but sometimes we can get caught up in our softball game or our work out and ignore signs our body is trying to tell us to slow down. Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency that is brought on by high-level physical exertion in extreme heat.
What Is It and How Do I Get It? Heat Stroke results from having an abnormally elevated body temperature. Whenever our body works out, it naturally generates heat, which usually escapes through the skin or through the evaporation of sweat. However, when you work out in extreme heat or humidity (or when you work out at a high intensity outside and do not hydrate yourself), the heat your body produces may not be able to dissipate well enough and your body temperature rises, sometimes up to 106°F or higher.
Infants, the elderly, athletes and those who work outside and physically exert themselves under the sun for a living are those at highest risk for heat strokes.
How Do I Know It’s Heat Stroke? Heat stroke symptoms can sometimes mimic those of a heart attack or other conditions. Often, an individual will experience signs of heat exhaustion before the condition escalates to heat stroke. Heat exhaustion symptoms include nausea, fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, weakness and vomiting.
Heat stroke symptoms include a high body temperature, the absence of sweating, red or flushed dry skin, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, hallucinations, disorientation, agitation, seizure and/or coma.
Prevention: Avoid working out in high-temperature or humidity environments. If you cannot avoid physical exertion in these environments, be sure to frequently hydrate yourself to help keep your body temperature down and take breaks as often as possible. Also, avoid drinking caffeine, alcohol or tea, as this may lead to dehydration.
Treatment: Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can lead to brain or organ damage and even death. If you or someone around you is exhibiting symptoms of a heat stroke, immediately call 911.
• While you’re waiting for emergency medical services, get the victim to a shady area, remove clothing, apply cool or warm water to the skin, fan the victim to promote sweating, and place ice packs under the armpits and groin.
• Further treatment must be administered by a trained medical professional.