n Sunscreen: Almost everyone who spends time out in the sun must wear sunscreen to block the harmful, damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. 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). Parents, protect your kids’ precious skin.
- Insects: Beware of the many summer bugs lurking out there. For mosquito protection, use a repellent that contains DEET, which, when used as directed, is safe for adults and children older than 2 months. Regarding the stinging insects such as yellowjackets, wasps and honeybees, avoid them if they are in your vicinity. If you do get stung by a honeybee, 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 is 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, when out in a wooded or grassy area, always check your entire body for ticks when you get home. If you find one, remove it as soon as possible by getting a pair of tweezers, grabbing the tick close to the skin and pulling it straight out.
- Poison oak: The best protection 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 affected area immediately with soap and water. Poison oak oil must be washed off 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: Heat exhaustion is marked by extreme sweating; fatigue; and cramps. Heat stroke (a life-threatening condition) is marked by lack of sweating; red, hot skin; and a very high body temperature. Both conditions can usually be prevented by drinking plenty of liquid and avoiding direct sun as much as possible, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Water safety: Four thousand Americans drown every year, with most victims being men by a factor of four times more than women. Alcohol is frequently involved. So make sure the kids are supervised in the water every single minute. Watch out for rapid currents, rip tides and rocks, depending on where you are, 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 for all passengers and do not drink alcohol and drive.
- Bicycling: Wear a helmet! No matter how obvious this bit of advice is, I still see people 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 when they involve the lack of a helmet. Be aware of your surroundings and be in control of your bike at all times. Don’t take foolish chances.
- Eating: Summer picnics can be a common source of food poisoning, manifested by vomiting and 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.
- Driving: We all drive more during the summer. The cheapest form of life insurance while you are in a car is the good old seal belt. Wear it! Make sure your children are in proper age-appropriate car seats. And hand-held cell phone use while driving your car is now illegal — don’t break the law.
Follow these tips, and have a very enjoyable, safe summer.
Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Santa Cruz Medical Foundation in Scotts Valley. A doctor with 34 years’ experience, he invites health-related questions at email@example.com. Information in this column is not intended to replace professional advice. For any medical concern, consult a qualified practitioner.