Article originally published in the July 2013 Wellness Workssm Newsletter
Summer’s sunshine draws us outside to play sports, explore nature or simply take it easy. Whether you’re relaxing in the backyard or playing volleyball on the beach, here are some of the best ways to avoid (or treat) some of the common hazards of the season — bug bites, sunburns, and poison ivy. Be sure to check out the checklist at the end of this article for supplying your summer first-aid kit.
Mosquitoes, ticks and people all share the great outdoors as their playground. The insects may be more than a nuisance to be swatted away. In the U.S., mosquitoes may transmit some rare but serious diseases including West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, dengue and eastern equine encephalitis. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease and other serious illnesses. Prime mosquito biting time is usually from dusk to dawn. Ticks are active all day and all night long. To prevent insect-borne illnesses, use an insect repellant containing 20% DEET. Always follow product directions and reapply as directed. If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second. You can also spray your clothing with permethrin. This insect repellant treatment lasts six weeks or through six washes. If you do find a tick attached to your skin, don’t panic. Ticks are easy to remove with a pair of tweezers. Call your healthcare provider if you develop a fever, rash, body aches, headache, stiff neck or disorientation during the first three weeks following a bite.
Avoid a Sunburn
You’ve heard it a million times: “Don’t forget sunscreen.” The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to protect against the sun. The AAD also recommends reapplying sunscreen every few hours. Despite precautions, someone in your family might end up with a patch of sunburn on the tops of their feet, across their nose or on their back. To treat the discomfort of sunburn:
- Take acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain, headache and fever.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Soothe the burn with cool baths or by gently applying cool, wet cloths.
- Use aloe vera gel for additional relief. Keeping the gel cool in the fridge will make it even more soothing when applied.
- Don’t go back in the sun until the burn has healed.
If your skin blisters, cover the area lightly with gauze to prevent infection. Don’t break blisters, which slows healing and increases risk of infection. Seek medical attention if you have a fever above 101°F or extreme pain that lasts more than 48 hours.
You Better Not Touch Poison Ivy
And you better not bump into poison oak and sumac either! These three plants contain urushiol, an oily resin in the plant sap. When urushiol comes in contact with your skin, it causes a nasty rash called allergic contact dermatitis. The itchy rash is marked by blisters and raised, red patches.
Most poison ivy, oak or sumac rashes can be treated with home remedies. If possible, wash the area immediately after contact with the plant. Just like in the 1959 hit song “Poison Ivy,” you might find relief in “an ocean of calamine lotion.” The rash typically disappears after two or three weeks. For severe rashes, your doctor might prescribe a corticosteroid medication such as prednisone.
The best way to prevent the rash is to learn to identify and avoid the plants. Poison ivy plants have three shiny leaves. Poison ivy grows as a woodland ground cover in the northern half of the country. It becomes a vigorous climbing vine in the South.
Your Summer First-Aid Kit
Summer is the season for stings, scrapes, sunburns and rashes. Are you prepared? A well-stocked first-aid kit gives you a sense of confidence, especially if you have kids. Minor mishaps can be treated easily and quickly without having to run to the drugstore or urgent care facility.
The items given in checklist below should prepare you for most minor injuries. Assemble your own kit from scratch or restock an existing one. The American Red Cross online store sells a handy guide to first aid and emergency preparedness as well as individual and family-size first-aid kits. Visit www.redcrosstore.org.
Your First-Aid Checklist
✓ Adhesive bandages ✓Antiseptic cleansing wipes ✓ Antibiotic cream or ointment ✓ Antihistamine ✓ Blister treatment (e.g., Moleskin or 2nd Skin) ✓ Butterfly bandages or wound-closure strips ✓ First-aid tape roll ✓ Gauze pads (assorted sizes) ✓ Sunburn relief gel with aloe vera ✓ Tweezers (for splinter removal) ✓ Vinyl exam gloves ✓ Gauze rolls ✓ Hand sanitizer packs or soap ✓ Hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion ✓ Ibuprofen or other pain reliever ✓ Insect sting relief stick ✓ Instant cold compress ✓ Medical adhesive tape ✓ Nonstick pads (4×4 inch) ✓Scissors