Your Health: Tips for summer safety
by Terry Hollenbeck, M.D.
Jun 02, 2011 | 1195 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Over the years of my emergency and urgent-care career, I’ve dealt with many different injuries and illnesses commonly seen during the summer months. Here are some of my thoughts on making this a very safe summer for everyone.


Almost everyone who spends time out in the sun must wear sunscreen to block the harmful, damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays on our sensitive skin. Use a sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF rating of at least 30. Apply it liberally and often (at least every two hours).


Beware of the many summer bugs lurking out there. For mosquito protection, use a repellant that contains DEET, which is safe for adults and children over 2 months of age when used as directed.

Regarding stinging insects, such as yellow jackets, wasps and honeybees, avoid them if they are in your vicinity. If you do get stung by a honey bee (which is the only one of the stinging insects that leaves a stinger behind in your skin), remove it as quickly as possible by any means possible. It has been judged OK to just pull it out with your fingers and not waste time finding something with which to scrape it off. Immediately apply ice to the sting.

Also, remove ticks as soon as possible if one is found on your skin.

Poison oak

The best protection against poison oak is to recognize it and avoid it.

If you come into contact with poison oak with your skin, clothing (including shoes and shoe laces) or garden tools, wash the surface immediately with soap and water. Poison oak oil must be washed off of your skin within a few minutes to avoid the dreaded rash.

Remember, all parts of the poison oak plant contain the nasty oil, including the leaves, branches and roots.


Heat exhaustion is manifested by extreme sweating, fatigue and cramps. Heat stroke, a life-threatening condition, produces a lack of sweating, hot red skin and a very high body temperature. Both conditions can usually be prevented by drinking plenty of liquids and avoiding direct sun as much as possible.

Water safety

About 4,000 Americans drown every year — mostly men, by a factor of four times more than women. Alcohol is frequently involved. Make sure children are supervised in the water every single minute. Watch out for rapid currents, rip tides and rocks, and always be aware of your surroundings.

Boat injuries claim another 700 American lives a year. Drive your boat sensibly, have enough life preservers on board and do not drink alcohol and drive.


Wear a helmet! No matter how obvious this bit of advice is, I still see people of all ages riding without a helmet, and I really cringe when I see children without this life-saving protection. Head injuries are often very serious, if not deadly, and are inexcusable for lack of a helmet.

Be aware of your surroundings, and be in control of your bike at all times. Don’t take foolish chances.


Summer picnics can be a common source of food poisoning, manifested by vomiting or diarrhea. Food left out too long is the usual culprit. Handling uncooked chicken or eating undercooked chicken is also a common source of this illness.


We all drive more during the summer. The cheapest form of life insurance while you are in a car is the good old seat belt. Wear it.

Make sure children are in proper age-appropriate car seats.

Hand-held cell phone use while driving a car can be deadly and is now illegal. Don’t break the law.

Have a very enjoyable, safe summer.

Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent care physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. A doctor with 36 years' experience, he invites you to view all of his previous articles at his web site Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.
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