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June 18, 2008 > Summer Brings Outdoor Fun and Risks

Summer Brings Outdoor Fun and Risks

Learn How to Protect Yourself from Serious Injury and Illness

Summer is just around the corner and with it, some of the risks associated with spending more time outdoors. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family while you enjoy the warm summer months.
"You can avoid mishaps this summer by thinking ahead," says Dr. Shelli Bodnar, a family practice physician with Washington Township Medical Group. "Staying safe is really about using good judgment."
Sun Protection
Protecting yourself from the sun's powerful rays is critical to preventing skin cancer. The key is to limit sun exposure, wear protective clothing and use sunscreen. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied at least every two hours. Use water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Avoiding the sun during the peak hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and wearing a wide-brimmed hat can also reduce your risk for sunburn.
If you do get a sunburn, make sure you use plenty of moisturizing cream. Aloe works well for relieving the burning sensation as does ibuprofen, which can also reduce any swelling.
Time spent in the sun and heat can also bring on heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. Make sure you drink plenty of water on hot days. If you begin to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, get out of the heat immediately.
Bug Bites
More time outside means a greater chance of getting bitten or stung by mosquitoes, ticks and bees. While bothersome, for most the risk for disease is very low.
Mosquito bites cause an itchy bump that can be relieved with topical anti-itch cream. Mosquitoes can carry the West Nile virus, which causes flu-like symptoms. While not common, it is important to protect yourself with bug repellent, especially at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most prevalent. Repellent containing DEET is the most effective, but DEET is not recommended for children.
Ticks dig into the skin and literally suck your blood, but they are usually harmless, especially in California. The biggest threat from tick bites is Lyme disease, which causes muscle aches and stiff joints. But Lyme disease is only found in the black-legged deer tick, which is rare in California.
"If you have experience successfully pulling out a tick, it's fine to do it yourself," Bodnar says. "You need to be careful not to leave part of it in your skin, which can become infected. If you are concerned about Lyme disease, we can pull it out for you and send it to the lab to determine if it is a deer tick."
Bee stings can be a big problem for those who are allergic, but only a minor inconvenience for most people. Treat a bee sting by scraping the stinger away in a side-to-side motion with a fingernail. Pulling the stinger or using tweezers may push more venom into the skin. Wash the area with soap and water.
Scrapes, Strains and Sprains
Summer is a great time for kids and adults to get active by bicycling, roller skating, playing sports, or just getting some projects done around the house. But that can also mean more scrapes, strains and sprains
Cuts and scrapes should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. Antibiotic creams are good, but keeping the wound clean is most important. For strains and sprains, its best to first use ice. Ibuprofen can help reduce the pain and swelling.
"If it really swells or turns purple very quickly, it might be a sign something is broken," Bodnar says. "When in doubt, come in for an X-ray so we can make sure you get the proper treatment."
Poison Oak
Spending time in the great outdoors increases your chances of rubbing up against poison oak, which can cause an itchy rash. If you come in contact with poison oak, wash your skin in cool water as soon as possible to prevent the spread. You should also put your clothes right into the washer when you get home.
"The rash itself is not contagious," Bodnar says. "But if the oil from the plant is on your skin or clothes, you can spread it."
The rash normally appears 24 to 36 hours after exposure. To control the rash, hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion can help. You should also take an oral antihistamine like Claritin or Benedryl, however, if the rash is severe, contact your doctor for stronger prescription medicine.
"When you head outdoors this summer, consider the risks and take the necessary precautions," Bodnar says.

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