Northwest Health Summer 2012

Easy Tips for a Carefree Summer

Take a few precautions to avoid common warm weather injuries and accidents.

Go to: Northwest Health Index

Beat the Heat

Too much of a good thing — in this case, hot weather — can lead to dehydration and heat stroke. When it heats up outside, follow these guidelines:

  • Drink plenty of water, using your thirst as a guide. If you have children, offer water frequently. They may not ask, even when they're thirsty.
  • If you're being active, drink some water before, during, and after your activity.
  • Exercise during the cooler parts of the day.
  • Avoid beverages that are dehydrating such as alcohol and coffee.
  • Wear a hat with a brim to shade your head.
  • Stay indoors or in the shade during the hottest parts of the day.

Watch for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke including muscle cramps, fever, clammy skin, mental confusion, lightheadedness, and rapid breathing. Anyone with these symptoms should lie down in a cool area, slowly drink a cool liquid, remove clothing, and cool down with a fan or by applying a cool washcloth or cold packs. If there's no improvement, call your personal physician during office hours, or the Consulting Nurse Service toll-free at 1-800-297-6877 after hours.

Protect Your Head When on a Bike

Wearing a helmet while cycling is the law in some cities in Washington state for good reason. They're very effective in protecting your head from a brain injury in a bike accident.

Whether or not you live in an area where helmets are required, be sure everyone in your family wears one.

Look for a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) label, usually located inside the helmet.

Be sure your helmet fits snugly and has an adjustable chin strap. Many helmets include Velcro pads that can be added or removed for a better fit.

The helmet should sit straight and level above your eyebrows.

Be Prepared on the Trail

When heading out for a hike, be sure to fill your backpack with essential supplies. The Washington Trails Association recommends including these items:

  • A map of the area you're visiting, and a compass.
  • Extra food and water, and a way to purify water.
  • Rain gear and extra clothing; a firestarter and matches.
  • A knife or multipurpose tool; a flashlight and extra batteries.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses.
  • A well-stocked first-aid kit (prestocked kits are available at many outdoor stores).

Other items to consider adding: a cell phone, insect repellent, a whistle, emergency blanket, mirror for signaling, duct tape, gloves, and extra socks. Be sure you let someone know where you're going, and check weather reports before you leave. If bad weather is predicted, choose another day for your hike.

Don't Just Jump In

Cooling off in a pool or lake, and enjoying a boat ride on a hot summer day are among the pleasures of summer. But each year, fun turns to tragedy when a drowning occurs. Take these common sense precautions and stay safe around water:

  • If you don't know how to swim, take lessons.
  • Only swim in areas with lifeguards or other trained rescue personnel.
  • Never jump or dive into water when you don't know its depth, or the speed of the current in a river.
  • Whether or not you can swim, wear a life jacket when in a boat.
  • Always watch small children — all the time — when around water, even shallow water.

Avoid swimmer's itch. Swimming in a lake that's inhabited by some types of wildlife can lead to this condition. It's caused by the parasites of birds and mammals. Take steps to avoid it by toweling off vigorously immediately after swimming, and if possible, taking a shower. If a rash appears — usually within 12 hours — avoid scratching, use an over-the-counter steroid such as hydrocortisone 1 percent to reduce swelling, and take an antihistamine to relieve itching.

Avoid the Stinging, Itchy Stuff

If you walk though brush, spend time in the woods, or even wander through your garden, you may get stung by a bee, brush up against a poisonous plant, or have some other unpleasant encounter with the plant and insect world.

To protect yourself from many potential problems:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants around brush, light-colored clothing (bugs are attracted to dark clothing), and gloves when gardening.
  • Avoid wearing scents that might attract insects.
  • Apply DEET repellents, effective against biting insects, if in a buggy area.

Don't ingest any plant you're not familiar with. If you get a rash after touching one, wash with soap and water as soon as possible. A list of plants that are harmful if touched or eaten is at Washington Poison Center.

Most bites, stings, or brushes with plant life respond to simple self-care measures — ice for swelling, an antihistamine for itching, an over-the-counter pain reliever for pain — but when in doubt, call your personal physician during office hours, or the Consulting Nurse Service toll-free at 1-800-297-6877 after hours.

Wear Dark Sunglasses

Sunglasses aren't only a fashion accessory. Just as with the skin, harm to the eye from the sun is cumulative, and increases the risk for cataracts and macular degeneration later in life, says Group Health optometrist Philip Paros, OD. Wear sunglasses whenever you're in the sun, and be sure to have your kids wear them too.

Slather Up

Sitting in the sun may feel good, but too much sun exposure increases your risk for skin cancer, and can give you a sunburn. So apply sunscreen even on cloudy days 30 minutes before going outside. Use one that offers full spectrum protection from the sun's UV rays, has an SPF of 30, and is water resistant. Also:

  • Be generous: If you're wearing a bathing suit, you'll need about an ounce to cover exposed skin — about the amount that a shot glass holds.
  • Reapply every two hours and after you swim.
  • Check any medications you're taking for increased sun sensitivity. Some types, such as antibiotics, will make it easier for you to get a sunburn.

If you do get a sunburn, take a cool shower or bath, drink plenty of water, and take an over-the-counter pain reliever. A severe sunburn with symptoms such as blistered skin, fever, nausea, disorientation, or signs of infection may need medical treatment. Call your personal physician for advice during office hours, or the Consulting Nurse Service toll-free at 1-800-297-6877 after hours.

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