By Frances Chamberlain
It has been a long, hard winter and most of us are relishing these sunny summer days. It’s easy to forget, however, what some of the risks are that come along with summer fun. Not too many years ago children romped in the river or pool until their shoulders and faces were blistered by the sun – now we know that this kind of exposure leads to some serious skin problems later.
According to Dr. Jeannie Kenkare, Chief Medical Officer of Urgent Care of Connecticut, with offices in Southbury, prolonged exposure to the sun is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Combining sunscreen, SPF 15, and sensible clothing can help to minimize the risks. This is advisable for any child over six months of age.
Dr. Kenkare recommends that people apply the sunscreen liberally, on the ears, back, shoulders, and back of the knees and legs, as well as on the face and arms. Put it on 30 minutes before you go out, and then reapply every two hours, or even more if you are sweating or swimming.
This is one of the easiest things we can do to minimize this risk. A wide-brim hat, sunglasses, and clothing that covers as much skin as possible is also a good idea.
Some of the other common problems that come with the warm weather are ticks and other insects. In this part of the country we are particularly vulnerable to Lyme Disease, which is carried by the tiny deer tick. Larger ticks are gross, but the deer tick, about the size of a pin head, are the ones that infect humans with a blood-borne infection that can have all sorts of ramifications, from fever and achiness, to major health issues.
A nightly “tick check” for anyone who has been outdoors is a wise idea. Other, more obvious, hazards come from mosquitoes and stinging insects. Dr. Kenkare’s recommendations are as follows: apply insect repellent according to the directions on the label. Because mosquitoes may bite through thin material, spray your clothes with an insect repellent that contains DEET or permethrin. The more DEET a product contains, the longer it can protect against mosquito bites (20-30% DEET is usually enough). Do not spray repellent with DEET on skin that is covered by clothing. Do not use an insect repellent with permethrin on your skin. Do not use repellents with DEET on children younger than 2 months, and for children less than 2 years old, use repellents with 10% or less DEET.
Stinging insects are much more painful (for anyone who has ever stepped on a bee!) Even the youngest children can learn to watch for bees hovering around blooming flowers, clover in the grass, or wasp nests in other strange places. Most of the time the symptoms of a bee sting are minor and include: sharp burning pain at the site and slight swelling around the area. “ If you get stung,” Dr. Kenkare said, “remove the stinger immediately by scraping it with the edge of a credit card, or fingernail, wash the area with soap and water, and apply cold compresses to relieve pain and swelling. If itching or swelling is bothersome, take an antihistmine such as diphenhydramine. “
About 3% of people will have a severe allergic reaction to stings which can be potentially life-threatening and require emergency treatment. Symptoms include hives or itching in areas away from the area of skin that was stung, difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue and throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, dizziness or fainting. If any of these symptoms occur call 911.
Make the most of your summer! Taking these few precautions – sun protection and insect repellent – can make a world of difference. You’ll end up with happy memories instead of avoidable discomfort.