Millions of people spend large parts of their summers hiking, biking, camping and otherwise enjoying wildlife and nature. But many incidents can occur, from animal bites to weather-related illnesses, which can add sickness and injury to your summer adventures.
This article contains some tips on how to avoid and treat health issues that commonly arise when people spend time in the great outdoors.
Overexposure to sunlight can cause a variety of problems, the most basic of which is sunburn. Here are some tips for avoiding sunburn and suggestions for dealing with it when you have one:
- Wear sun block, sunscreen or suntan lotion whenever you are outside for prolonged periods of time during the summer (even when it is cloudy or overcast).
- 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 at least 15.
- People with light skin color, light hair or eye color, a family history of skin cancer, chronic sun exposure, a history of sunburns early in life or freckles should be particularly careful to avoid excessive exposure to the sun.
- In addition to sunscreen, people can wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, or seek shade under a beach umbrella or tree, to avoid getting too much sun.
- If you do get sunburned, do not put ice or butter on your skin. Instead, use a cold compress.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers can also help deal with any pain or discomfort.
- Keep an eye out for moles that change color or size, bleed or that have an irregular and spreading edge. These are all potential signs of skin cancer.
Heat illness is a much more severe condition than sunburn. During heat illness, the body’s cooling system shuts down. Body temperature goes up, which inhibits the ability to sweat. Mild symptoms of heat exhaustion include thirst, fatigue and cramps in the legs or abdomen. Left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. Serious heat-related symptoms include dizziness, headaches, nausea, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, decreased alertness and a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or more. In severe cases, the liver, kidneys and brain may be damaged.
The risk of heat illness goes up during exertion and sports, and it also increases if a person has certain health conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Alcohol use also increases the risk, as do medications that slow sweat production such as antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants and diuretics used to treat water retention, high blood pressure and some liver and kidney conditions.
People ages 65 and older and young children are especially vulnerable to heat illness. Many children die every year after being left in alone in hot cars, some for just a few minutes. Many people do not realize that the temperature inside a car can climb much higher than temperatures outside during a sunny day. Heat stroke in children can occur within minutes, even if a car window is opened slightly.
Air conditioning is the best protective factor against heat illness. If you do not have air conditioning, spend time in public facilities, such as libraries and malls that have air conditioning. Reduce strenuous activities or do them during early mornings and evenings when it is cooler. If you are outside for long stretches of time carry a water bottle with you, drink fluids regularly and do not push your limits. People playing sports should wear light, loose-fitting clothes and drink water or sports drinks before, during and after activity.
If you see someone experiencing heat illness, have the person lie down in a cool place and elevate their legs. Use water, wet towels and fanning to help cool the person down until emergency help comes.
Mosquitoes and Ticks
Ticks are usually harmless. The biggest disease threat from tick bites is Lyme disease, which is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are transmitted to humans by the black-legged deer tick, which is about the size of a pinhead and usually lives on deer.
About 80 percent of people who get Lyme disease develop a large rash that looks like a bull’s-eye. Other classic Lyme disease symptoms include muscle aches and stiff joints. If a blood test confirms Lyme disease, patients can be treated with oral antibiotics and intravenous treatments.
Another insect-borne illness, West Nile virus, is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and usually produces mild symptoms in healthy people. But the illness can be serious for older people and those with compromised immune systems. Less than one percent of people infected with West Nile virus develop severe illness. The symptoms are flu-like and can include fever, headache, body aches and skin rash.
There are no vaccines on the market for West Nile virus or Lyme disease. If you are spending time in tall grass or woody areas try using an insect repellent that contains DEET to ward off mosquitoes and ticks. Insect repellents should not be used on babies, and repellent used on children should contain no more than 10 percent DEET.
Check yourself and your children for ticks before bedtime. If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers, drop it in a plastic bag and throw it away. You do not have to save the tick to show it to doctors. Then clean the area of the tick bite with antiseptic. Early removal is important because a tick generally has to be on the skin for 36 hours or more to transmit Lyme disease.
Bee stings are one of the most common summertime injuries. Most reactions to bees are mild, but severe allergic reactions lead to between 40 and 50 deaths each year. An allergic reaction can occur even if a person has been stung before with no complications. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a bee sting are swelling, hives, itching, rash, difficulty breathing and shock.
To keep bees away, people should wear light-colored clothing and avoid scented soaps and perfumes. Do not leave food, drinks and garbage out uncovered.
Treat a bee sting by scraping the stinger away in a side-to-side motion with a credit card or fingernail, and then washing the area with soap and water. Pulling the stinger or using tweezers may push more venom into the skin. For any bug bite or sting, ice or a cold compress and over-the-counter pain-relieving creams or oral medications can help.
Because bees puncture the skin with their stingers, there is a risk of tetanus infection. After getting the regular series of childhood tetanus shots, adults should have a tetanus booster shot every 10 years.
Watch for signs of allergic reaction to stings, which typically happen within the first few hours. If you or your child has ever had an allergic reaction to a sting, experts recommend carrying epinephrine, a prescription hormone given by injection to support blood pressure, increase heart rate and relax the airways.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 8,000 to 10,000 people are treated in emergency rooms every year for injuries associated with fireworks. Most injuries involved the hands, head and eyes. Many people also receive burns each summer from grills and campfires.
To avoid the chance of injury, families should stick with public firework displays handled by professionals. Children should always be closely supervised when food is being cooked indoors or outdoors. Be aware that gas leaks, blocked tubes and overfilled propane tanks cause most gas grill fires and explosions.
Generally, minor burns smaller than a person’s palm can be treated at home. But burns bigger than that (and burns on the hands, feet, face, genitals and major joints) usually require emergency treatment. Run cool water over a small burn and cover it with a clean, dry cloth. Do not apply ice, which can worsen a burn. Do not apply petroleum jelly or butter, which can hold heat in the tissue. Consult your family doctor if a minor burn does not heal in a couple of days or if there are signs of infection, such as redness and swelling.
Summer is the prime season for weddings, picnics, graduation parties and family cookouts. Feeding the large groups involved can make food safety especially challenging. Known sources of E. coli include undercooked beef, sausage and contaminated produce.
Typical signs of food-borne illness include nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea. In serious cases, high fever, bloody stool and prolonged vomiting may occur. Young children, pregnant women, older people and those with compromised immune systems are hit hardest.
To help avoid food-borne illnesses people should:
- Wash their hands well and often with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating
- Wash cooking surfaces
- Keep raw food separate from cooked food
- Marinate food in the refrigerator and cook it thoroughly
- Refrigerate or freeze extra food promptly
- Do not leave food out for more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit
- Keep hot food hot and cold food cold
- Wash fruits and vegetables with cool running water
- Place cold food in a cooler with plenty of ice or commercial freezing gels when packing food for a picnic (cold food should be held at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the cooler should be stored in shade)
- Hot food should be wrapped well, placed in an insulated container and kept at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit
People hit by a food-borne illness must stay hydrated. They could try chewing on ice chips or sipping clear fluid after vomiting has stopped. In the next day or so, eat only light foods such as bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, crackers and soup. People should seek emergency treatment if severe pain accompanies the illness, if vomiting does not stop in a couple of hours or if bloody diarrhea is experienced.
Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac
Rashes from poison ivy, oak, or sumac are all caused by urushiol, a substance in the sap of the plants. Poison plant rashes cannot be spread from person to person, but it is possible to pick up a rash from urushiol that sticks to clothing, tools, balls and pets.
Campers and outdoors enthusiasts should learn what poisonous plants look like and avoid them. If you come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, wash the skin in cool water as soon as possible to prevent the spread of urushiol. If you get a rash, oatmeal baths and calamine lotion can dry up blisters and bring relief from itching. Treatment may include over-the-counter or prescription corticosteroids and antihistamines.
Some content in this article was gathered from documents found on the website for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The website is located at www.fda.gov.
©2013 ComPsych® Corporation. All rights reserved. This information is for educational purposes only. It is always important to consult with the appropriate professional on financial, medical, legal, behavioral or other issues. As you read this information, it is your responsibility to make sure that the facts and ideas apply to your situation.
I just want to add that when you are camping, regardless of where you are, please be bear aware! Place all food stuffs in metal bins with sealed lids or put them in your car. Dispose of your garbage in a bear-proof metal garbage can or keep the trash in your car or a specific metal bin with sealed lid. Bears are very curious and have voracious appetites. They are not cute like cartoon bears – they are large animals who can become frightened and therefore vicious. Please read and heed all warnings when entering wilderness areas.