Medically Reviewed and Written By: Kathleen O’Shea Northrup, MD
It’s finally here! Summer has arrived, and with it comes all of the joys that we associate with good weather: beaches, pools, BBQs, and outdoor activities. However, with the fun comes some risks- keep your family safe and healthy by paying attention to the following tips.
One of the best parts of the summer is the warmer weather! But did you know that at the highest UV levels, you can get a sunburn in less than 15 minutes?1 This varies according to skin type, but on sunny days protect yourself by using sunblock. SPF 30 or higher is best and should be reapplied every 2 hours. Wearing protective clothing- sunglasses, big floppy hats, light long-sleeve shirts- and staying in the shade can also be helpful. Avoiding peak sun hours (10am – 4 pm) greatly decreases the risk of sunburn. Keep in mind that water reflects the sun, leading to a faster sunburn if you are unprotected. And don’t forget sunglasses- your eyes deserve protection from the sun too!
The best sunblock has a higher SPF (preferably greater than SPF 30). There are two types – physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens are mineral sunscreens that physically block UV rays and typically contain zinc and/or titanium oxide. These can be somewhat harder to rub in but can be better for children and those with sensitive skin.
Chemical sunscreens use different chemicals to block UV rays. These might include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Although these chemicals do their work on the surface of the skin, there is evidence that they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Studies are currently being done to ensure that there are no negative effects on your health from this. Both the FDA and the American Academy of Dermatology advise that the protection sunblocks provide against skin cancer outweighs the known risks at this time, though further studies are ongoing.
No matter what kind of sunblock you use, frequent reapplication is also critical. Reapply sunblock every 2 hours or more if you are spending time in the water or doing activities that could rub off your sunblock. Remember to apply to the often-forgotten areas of your body, like the tops of your ears, neck, head, and feet. Children under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected from the sun by an umbrella, stroller, or other forms of shade. If it is not possible to find shade, small amounts of sunscreen can be applied to a baby’s exposed skin if necessary.
If you are unfortunate enough to experience a sunburn, apply cool, moist cloths to affected areas to help soothe it, or take frequent cool showers or baths. Ibuprofen or other NSAIDs can help as well when used as directed. Applying aloe or similar moisturizers directly to the area may provide some relief. And make sure to drink plenty of water!
With extreme temperatures comes the risk of heat-related illness. This can range from mild symptoms like heat-induced abdominal cramps all the way to heat stroke and death. Prevention is key- staying out of the heat during peak hours, taking frequent breaks in shaded/cool areas, wearing light-colored, light-weight clothing, and staying hydrated are all ways to help prevent heat-related illness. Recognizing signs of heat-related illness early is critical. These can include dizziness, cramps, headache, nausea, fast heart rate, and rapid breathing. If you or someone around you starts to experience these symptoms, getting to a cool area is vitally important. Drink small sips of cold water, apply cool compresses, stand in front of a fan, and remove any excess clothing. If symptoms do not improve, seek medical care. If there is any fainting, confusion, slurred speech, persistent vomiting, or high body temperature (>103 F), call 9-1-1.
Certain groups are at higher risk of developing a heat-related illness- the very young, the very old, those whose jobs require that they work in the heat (roofers, landscapers, farmers, firefighters, athletes, etc.), people on certain medications (such as water pills and diabetes medications), or anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Extra precautions should be taken by these groups.
Keeping cool in the heat often means spending time in a pool, ocean, or lake!
But water safety cannot be ignored. Never dive into shallow water. Make sure you are swimming in a safe area, preferably under the watchful eye of a lifeguard. Swim only in designated areas, as underwater debris can be dangerous. Avoid riptides in the ocean- these are fast-flowing currents that appear to be gaps between waves and can carry swimmers out into deeper waters. Never swim alone, and do not leave children unattended for even a second while in the water. Constant vigilance is key when there are children in the water- stay off cell phones, put down your magazine, and make sure children are being watched every moment.
Drowning can happen in minutes…and unlike what you might see on TV, people who are drowning are unlikely to make loud splashing noises but rather might slip under the water unnoticed. Also, empty large containers of water once you are done with them, including child pools, buckets, or other containers, as these can pose a drowning risk for young children.
When on a boat, wear a life jacket. The US Coast Guard reports that 81% of boating deaths in 2021 were due to drowning, and 83% of the victims were not wearing life jackets. It doesn’t matter if you are a good swimmer- if you fall off a boat, you may be confused or unconscious, and life jackets will make it easier for rescuers to reach you.
Outdoor time also means more exposure to bugs! Ticks and mosquitoes are not only annoying, they can also carry diseases like Lyme disease (ticks) and West Nile Virus (mosquitoes), among others. Avoid tall brush and grass, as ticks love to hide among them. Examine your pets and clothing when you come indoors to ensure no ticks have hitched a ride you’ve been in a tick-heavy area. Make sure you check yourself thoroughly for ticks after any outdoor adventure.
Mosquitoes are most prevalent at dusk. When outdoors, wear long-sleeved clothing and long pants, and apply a bug spray containing DEET or picardin for best prevention. The EPA even has a search tool that can help you determine what type of repellant can best help you to prevent tick and mosquito bites, and can be found here:
Biking is a great way to get outside in the summer! Wearing a properly sized helmet is a very important way to help prevent head injury in the case of an accident. It doesn’t matter how good of a biker you are- bike accidents can happen to anyone! Set a good example for your children by wearing a bike helmet regardless of your age. Follow the rules of the road when biking as well, and never assume that a car’s driver sees you. You may have the right of way, but extra caution is never a bad thing.
Summer is a great time to enjoy the company of friends and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables! Blueberries are high in antioxidants (which can help the body fight disease) and are especially sweet and delicious in the summer. Corn on the cob, vine-ripened tomatoes, and the zucchini that your neighbor keeps leaving on your porch are all delicious ways to add healthy nutrients to your diet.
BBQs are also a fun way to gather with family and friends! Though you may love Aunt Debbie’s potato salad, make sure it has been properly refrigerated before you eat it. Foodborne illnesses can result from food that has been out for as little as an hour in warm temperatures and 2 hours at room temperature. Try keeping your food in the refrigerator or on ice until right before it is served, and then refrigerate it immediately after everyone takes a helping. In addition, make sure all meats are cooked to a safe internal temperature- that is 160℉ for burgers, 165℉ for chicken, and 145℉ for fish. Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.
Follow these easy tips, and you and your family will have a safe and fun summer!