Health beat: Summertime fun facts

Published 6:36 pm Friday, June 17, 2016

Summer doesn’t officially arrive until June 21; however, most of us have been enjoying the outdoors for at least a few weeks. That is one of the great advantages of living in the south — plenty of warm days, full of sunshine. As you and your family enjoy the great outdoors this season, consider these suggestions to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy.



While most of us are probably good about applying sunscreen when we hit the beach for the first time, we need to use it more often and more liberally. Even on cloudy days, UV light penetrates the cloud cover. Reflection off water and sand make the rays more intense as well. For best effectiveness, sunscreen should be applied about 15-30 minutes before going outside. Even if it is just to weed the garden or play on the swing set for an hour, you should apply it before heading outdoors. The mistake most people make is not reapplying it as the day goes on. Recommendations for reapplying include after coming out of the water (even if it claims to be “waterproof”), every 2-3 hours and after you towel off for any reason. Use at least 30 SPF — 50 and 100 SPF are not necessarily better. All need reapplication. Creams, lotions and sprays are all effective and are personal preferences. If you or your child has sensitive skin, use a PABA-free product. Lastly, throw out last season’s sunscreen. The protective qualities break down over time.



No one with hair on their head likes to coat their scalp with sunscreen, however your scalp can easily get burned. Wear a hat that covers at least your forehead, preferably your neck as well. Kids particularly need wide-brimmed hats — it is hard to keep little ones well-coated with enough sunscreen as they are playing outside. Sunglasses are just as important. Don’t let vain concerns about “raccoon eyes” get in the way of protecting your eyes.



Those little critters seem to be everywhere once the weather warms up. Whether it is mosquitoes, ticks, bees, yellow flies or “no-see-ums,” the use of a repellant containing DEET can protect your from nuisance insect bites and prevent the diseases they may transmit. Use products containing 10 to 30-percent DEET — smaller percentages for younger children. Only apply DEET products once a day, and do not use on infants under 2 months. When applying DEET onto children, spray your hands first, then wipe on face and exposed skin. Don’t apply to their palms, as their hands will end up in their mouth. Also, don’t use combined DEET/sunscreen products. Not only are the reapplication recommendations vastly different, the DEET will break down the protective ingredients of the sunscreen. Lastly, check for ticks daily. Ticks have to be attached to a human for at least 24 hours before transmitting diseases like Lyme’s disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.



In our medical practice, once school lets out, we see at least a few cases of contact dermatitis each day. We know when summer vacation begins! A number of plants including “poison ivy,” “poison oak” and “poison sumac” contain an ingredient cal urushiol and about 60–80 percent of people will have an allergic reaction to the chemical. The resin can remain on your hands, clothing and any other surface (door handles, gardening tools, bikes) for up to five days if not cleansed off. So wash your hands or shower as soon as possible if you might have had contact, and use cleansing wipes for the other surfaces. Learn to recognize the plants. They are all green vines that grow along the ground or up trees. The poison ivy motto is “leaves of three — let it be.” Don’t be fooled in the spring and fall — the leaves can look red as they newly emerge and as autumn creeps in. Allergic reactions can be treated with oral Benadryl and hydrocortisone creams.

Have a great summer and enjoy playing outside!

Debbie Ainsworth, MD, is a pediatrician at Washington Pediatrics, located at 1206 Brown St., Washington, and can be reached by calling 252-946-4134.