The kids are out of school. The days are longer – and warmer! Summer is here and brings with it the opportunity to make new, lasting memories with your family. Privia Medical Group North Texas wants you and your family to have a safe and healthy summer. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
Beat the Heat
North Texas is notoriously hot in the summer, especially in July and August. “Prolonged exposure to excessive heat can lead to health problems, including dehydration, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke,” warns Dr. Errol Bryce, an internal medicine physician. “Taking some basic precautions can help you avoid these health threats.”
Heat exhaustion occurs when a person loses too much water and salt from their bodies, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, heavy sweating and shallow breathing. If you experience symptoms such as these, get to a cool area (preferably inside) and drink plenty of water or other fluids, as long as they’re not carbonated or alcoholic. Applying a cool cloth or taking a cool bath can also aid recovery from heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke is even more dangerous. Heat stroke occurs when the body becomes extremely overheated and is unable to regulate its internal temperature. A person suffering from heat stroke can quickly reach a temperature of up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of heat stroke include hallucinations, chills and dry, hot skin. If you think someone may be suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately and get the person to a cool area and soak them in cool water.
Drinking plenty of water, along with wearing loose-fitting and light-colored clothing (light colors reflect sunlight, whereas dark colors absorb it) are two of the most important things you can do to avoid heat-related illnesses in the summer. And be mindful of how long you’ve been outdoors; don’t overdo it with physical activity and stay in the shade whenever possible.
Protect Your Skin
The summer heat isn’t the only reason to stay in the shade. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause sunburn almost immediately, causing skin to redden and become painful and itchy. More problematic, sustained sun exposure can damage the skin’s cells over the long term and lead to skin cancer, the most common type of cancer among both women and men in the United States.
UVA rays penetrate the skin and are responsible for premature aging signs, such as wrinkles and spots. UVB rays primarily affect the surface of the skin, causing sunburn. Anyone who spends time in the sun is susceptible to skin cancer, but that’s especially true of fair-skinned people.
The key to beating back those UV rays is a good sunscreen. There are two types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. A chemical sunscreen works by absorbing UV rays, with their active ingredients acting as a sponge. A physical sunscreen serves as a barrier to the UV rays, deflecting them much like a shield would deflect an arrow. Some people with sensitive skin may opt for this type of sunscreen.
Sunscreens are classified by their Sun Protection Factor (SPF). It is recommended you use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which will block 97% of UVB rays. The higher the SPF, the more protection the sunscreen provides, but an SPF of 60 is not twice as protective as an SPF of 30 and no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UVB rays.
“When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours and if you are swimming, reapply sunscreen every time you get out of the water,” advises Dr. Wilder Diaz-Calderon, an internal medicine physician. “It’s important to keep in mind that a higher SPF does not mean the sunscreen lasts longer – you must reapply sunscreen every two hours, regardless of the SPF.”
The U.S. Food and drug Administration (FDA) requires that all sunscreens maintain their effectiveness for at least three years. If you have some sunscreen in the cabinet from last year, check the expiration date before you use it. If it is out of date, throw it away and buy some more.
Be generous when applying sunscreen! Most people don’t use enough of it. It’s also easy to forget about parts of your body that need to be protected – it’s not just your limbs, back and chest. You should apply sunscreen to every exposed area of skin, including your feet, hands and head. Your lips can also be harmed by the sun, so using lipstick or lip balm with SPF is a good idea, as well. Remember there is no problem with using sunscreen and insect repellant at the same time. Insect repellant lasts longer, so there is not a need to reapply it as frequently as sunscreen.
For babies and toddlers, it is best to minimize their time in the sun and protect them with loose-fitting clothing, a hat and sunglasses when they are outside. Sunscreen should generally not be used for babies under 6 months of age.
Using sunscreen consistently and correctly is one of the most important things you can do to prevent sunburn and long-term skin damage, including skin cancer.
Stay Safe in the Water
According to the CDC, three children die each day as a result of drowning. Next to birth defects, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4.
Teaching children to be strong swimmers is crucial to keeping them safe in the water. However, even if your child is adept at swimming, parents must never let their guard down around the water. Children need to be watched closely at all times in or near any body of water, be it a backyard pool, lake, river or ocean.
“When young children are in the water, it is absolutely essential that there be an adult close by, watching them continuously,” says Dr. Carolyn Evans, a pediatrician. “In the time it takes to answer a phone call or read a text message, a child can go underwater and drown. Stay close and keep your eyes on children at all times.”
For people who have pools at home, installing a safety fence is highly recommended to prevent young children from getting in the water unsupervised.
Many people take advantage of the numerous, beautiful lakes in North Texas by getting out on a boat during the summer. Just remember, alcohol and water do not mix. The same rules that apply to driving also apply to boating in Texas: if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher, you can be charged with boating while intoxicated.
Lifejackets are also essential in boats. Texas law requires that every boat has one life jacket for each person on board and that all children under the age of 13 wear a life jacket at all times (in boats less than 26 feet long).
Enjoying the Great Outdoors
Summer is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Your summer plans may involve a camping trip, a beach vacation or simply spending some time in the backyard. Be on guard against these pests and plants that can ruin your summer fun.
Usually, mosquitos are simply annoying – when they bite us, we experience an itching and stinging sensation for a while. However, mosquitos can also carry West Nile virus.
Most people who are infected with West Nile virus never know it, as the virus usually produces no symptoms. In about 20% of cases, West Nile virus causes body aches, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting and rash. While these symptoms do typically subside, fatigue can continue for a few months.
In less than 1% of West Nile cases, serious neurological illness, such as meningitis or encephalitis, can result. Permanent brain damage is possible in these cases and around 10% of people who get this form of West Nile will die as a result. People over the age of 60 are most at risk.
To protect your family from mosquitos and the illnesses they can carry, do not allow standing water near your house. Mosquitos love to breed in stagnant water, so be sure to eliminate any empty pots and containers from your yard and fill in any low spots that do not drain well.
When outdoors, protect yourself from mosquito bites by using an insect repellent with DEET, which has proven effective at repelling the types of mosquitos known to carry West Nile virus. “Apply insect repellent to any exposed skin, such as your arms and legs,” says Dr. Stephanie Gold, a pediatrician. “Additionally, spray some into the palm of your hand and then rub it onto your face for maximum protection.”
Some insect repellents also provide protection against ticks, which can carry Lyme disease and other illnesses. Protection from ticks, in addition to mosquitos, is important if your family’s summer plans include camping or hiking in the woods. Use the Environmental Protection Agency’s online tool to identify insect repellents that best suit your needs.
Three Leaves = Bad News
If you’re going hiking or camping, take the time to learn what poison ivy looks like. The plant’s oil causes an allergic reaction when it comes into contact with human skin. While it’s not a serious threat to one’s health, it can make you miserable. Less common in Texas are poison oak and poison sumac – both plants produce reactions similar to poison ivy. If you do come in contact with one of these plants, the best treatment is to wash the affected area with cool water and use calamine lotion to relieve itching.
There are two types of poisonous spiders in the United States, and both are present in Texas: the brown recluse and black widow. A bite from one of these spiders causes intense pain, redness and swelling and can lead to skin necrosis, in which the cells in the skin begin to die. If you’ve suffered a bite that is producing unusually painful or long-lasting reactions, go to a doctor or hospital right away. Venomous spider bites can be treated with oral and intravenous antibiotics. Minimize your chances of spider bites by taking precautions in heavily wooded areas, such as wearing long clothing and close-toed shoes.
For many families, summer is not complete without a trip to the beach. Watch where you step when you’re walking in the sand, however. If you step on a jellyfish, you’ll have a painful and possibly dangerous experience. Most jellyfish stings result in immediate pain and reddening of the skin. If stung by a jellyfish, remove any tentacles that become embedded in the skin and wash the affected area with seawater. Rinsing the area with vinegar can also help to deactivate any stingers that were dislodged. Finally, soak the affected area in water for a few minutes. In rare cases, a jellyfish sting can cause a systemic reaction and require immediate medical attention.
Have a Great Summer
By taking a few precautions to protect yourself and your family, you’ll better be able to keep everyone safe and healthy all summer long. By reducing your risk of preventable illness and injury, you’ll be able to focus on having a good time with your family and making some new memories.
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