Curing the summertime (first-aid) blues

Don't let sunburn, insect bites and infection damper your fun

Don't let sunburn, insect bites and infection damper your fun

July 20, 2009|By NATALIE BRANDON / Special to The Herald-Mail

Sunburn, bee stings, poison ivy -- Oh, my!

With summer in full swing, some common and irritating woes can put a damper on good times. Dr. Bhuvasa Raja, director of Urgent Care for Washington County Hospital, offers her advice on how to prevent and treat these summertime blues.


"Sunburn is the most common condition we see, as far as summer-related cases go," Raja says. "We also see many cases of poison ivy and bug bites, especially in children."

Sunburn makes skin red, dry, itchy and sensitive to sunlight and heat. Long-term exposure to the sun causes premature aging of the skin and can lead to developing freckles, spots, even skin cancer.


"Prevention is key," Raja notes, "The best thing would be to avoid sun exposure from 10 a.m. to

4 p.m., when the sun's UVA and UVB rays are most prevalent."

Individuals who have pale skin or blond or red hair are more likely to burn. Babies and young children are at special risk, as well, because of their delicate skins.

"If you're someone who tends to be sunburned easily, stay in the shade and use a sunblock that protects against both UVA and UVB rays that is SFP 15 or more," Raja suggests.

Sunblock protects skin from UVB rays, which are responsible for burning, tanning and causing damage to the surface of the skin. UVB rays reach the Earth's surface mainly in the summer. UVA rays penetrate the atmosphere more easily and reach the Earth's surface year-round. UVA rays are responsible for aging, wrinkling and long-term deep damage to the skin.

"Cloudy days are no exception," Raja says. UVA rays penetrate most clouds.

For prevention, Raja suggests using products containing the chemical mexoryl, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to effectively block UVA rays.

However, once a person is sunburned, Raja warns, treatment is based on managing symptoms She suggests taking a cool shower, using aspirin to alleviate pain and applying aloe to the affected areas.

Summertime infections

If you spend a lot of your summer by the pool, you might want to be wary of two common summer ailments: swimmer's ear and athlete's foot.

Swimmer's ear is caused by an infection resulting from getting excessive water in your ears in the pool or sea water. Symptoms include redness in the ear canal, pressure or pain or a fluid discharge from the ear, Raja suggests seeing a doctor to get antibiotics.

Do you have itchy, cracked skin between your toes?

"People who experience athlete's foot tend to spend a lot of time around the pool or the gym," Raja says. She recommends using over-the-counter lotions to treat the fungal infection.

"Make sure the affected area stays dry," Raja says, "and continue to apply the product as recommended until the infection clears."


Some of the more serious summer ailments are insect bites and stings.

The red, itchy bumps that usually appear in clusters on the skin are generally caused by mild allergic reactions to the insect's saliva. For some, however, their allergic reaction can be so severe, it can be fatal.

"A person who is highly allergic to stings should always carry an EpiPen and then seek immediate medical attention after being stung," Raja says.

She says stingers may be removed at home with a fine pair of tweezers, but make sure they're sterilized to prevent infection. Bee stingers should be removed by scraping gently across the skin with a butter knife.

Sinus infections

One of the biggest disappointments that many of us experience during this season is the summer cold. The weather may be beautiful outside, but you're stuck with a runny nose and feeling terrible.

"During the winter, we worry about the flu that can result in complications that lead to death," Raja explains, "but you're not going to have those complications with summer colds."

Summer colds are caused by the same kind of viruses that cause colds during winter. Symptoms such as fever and congestion can last anywhere from three to ten days.

Raja suggests using aspirin to alleviate fever and products with a decongestant to open up nasal passages. You should also rest and drink plenty of fluids to avoid another common summertime woe -- dehydration.

Poison ivy

Leaves of three? Let them be!

Most people know that poison ivy has a distinctive cluster of three leaves. But did you know that the itchy rash you get from touching poison ivy comes from an oil in the plant's leaves, vines and roots? Touching any part of the plant can cause a reaction on the skin, sometimes a strong reaction.

But prevention is fairly simple -- avoid contact with plants with clusters of three leaves.

"People who know they are prone to poison ivy can use a product called Ivy Block," she says.

And if a person thinks they've touched poison ivy, they should try to remove the oil from the skin, Raja says.

"Remove your clothing and wash your skin gently with soap and water to prevent spreading the oils," she says.

She also warns that family pets can bring the plant's oils into the house with them after being outside, which can spread the oil to others that way.

For some people, especially children, summer is the best time of the year. Make sure you keep your family protected and prepared to battle any of these summer bummers year-round.

For more information about summertime first aid, contact the Washington County Health Department at 240-313-3200.

The Herald-Mail Articles