**Sunscreen: Almost everyone who spends time out in the sun must wear sunscreen to block the 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. Parents, protect your children’s 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 stinging insects such as yellowjackets, wasps and honeybees, avoid them if they are nearby. If you are stung by a honey bee, which is the only stinging insect that leaves a stinger behind in the skin, remove it as quickly as possible, by any means possible. It is now deemed OK to pull it out with your fingers and not waste time finding something with which to scrape it off. Immediately apply ice to the sting.
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 touch poison oak with your skin, clothing (including shoes and shoe laces) or garden tools, wash them immediately with soap and water. Poison oak oil must be washed off the 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 evidenced by extreme sweating, fatigue and cramps. Heat stroke (a life-threatening condition) is characterized by lack of sweating; red, hot 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, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
**Water safety: About 4,000 Americans drown every year — and men are four times more likely to drown than women. Alcohol is frequently involved. Make sure children are supervised in the water every single minute. Watch out for rapid currents, riptides and rocks, and always be aware of your surroundings.
Boat injuries claim another 700 lives a year. Drive your boat sensibly, have enough life preservers on board, 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 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.
**Eating: 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 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 seat belt. Wear it! Also, make sure children are in proper, age-appropriate car seats. Hand-held cell phone use while driving your car is a significant cause of accidents and is now illegal.
Have a very enjoyable — and very 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 readers to view his previous columns at http://valleydoctor.wordpress.com. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.