Warm Weather Fun
Warmer weather equals fun whether it’s a trip to the beach, a hike among soaring redwoods or firing up the barbecue with friends in your backyard. However, as an urgent care physician, I also know that spring and summer, like all seasons, come with their own unique set of hazards. As your family prepares to embrace all that warmer weather has to offer, make sure to keep health and safety in mind.
Q: I’m worried about the chemicals in sunscreen being absorbed through the skin. Is it safe to skip the sunscreen sometimes?
A: Being mindful about limiting exposure to chemicals in the environment is important, but when it comes to sunscreen, the benefits outweigh the risks. Skin cancers are the most common form of cancer in the United States and the incidence rate of melanomas – the subset of skin cancers that are among the most dangerous – has risen particularly rapidly. In 1930, the lifetime risk of melanoma was one in 1,500. In 2009, it was one in 50 for whites, one in 200 for Hispanics and one in 1,000 for blacks.
Sunburn increases the risk of developing skin cancer, especially if the sunburn happened when one was under the age of 18.
During the summer months when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the strongest, it is important that all children and adolescents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a skin protection factor (SPF) of 15.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens are those that protect against both UV-A and UV-B radiation. They work best when applied generously 20 minutes before going out in the sun.
Be aware that all sunscreens wear off over time and should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming, even if you are using a product marked as water-proof or water-resistant. Also remember to wear UV-protecting sunglasses to prevent damage to your eyes.
Babies under 6 months of age should not wear sunscreen and should be kept out of direct summer sun.
Q: What is an overlooked summer hazard?
A: One danger people tend to forget is food poisoning. Cooking outdoors is a lot of fun, but it also means juggling multiple ingredients in a limited space without a sink handy for washing up or a refrigerator for keeping foods cool.
Avoid eating or serving your family any foods that have been left out for a long time on a warm day. Bacteria that cause food poisoning can grow rapidly in such situations.
In addition, be careful when grilling chicken as it can carry bacteria. Wash your hands and any utensils, cutting boards or containers that touched raw chicken with warm soapy water. Throw away food that may have come in contact with raw chicken juices. Finally, using a meat thermometer can help ensure the chicken has cooked completely before you take it off the grill.
Q: What is the most dangerous hazard?
A: According to the National Safety Council, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1 to 14.
Although it is a risk year-round, the number of deaths and near drowning cases do go up in the summer months when pools and beaches are open. Make sure your kids are always supervised when they are in a swimming pool, lake or the ocean.
Teaching children to swim at an early age can help keep them safe, but even children who know how to swim should be supervised in the water.
For older children, swimming with a buddy is of utmost importance, even at pools and beaches with a lifeguard. Older children should be taught about the dangers of currents, rocks and rip tides in open water.
If you have a home pool, make sure it is gated to protect your own children and young visitors, and consider learning CPR. Remember that a child can fall in a pool and drown in the time it takes to answer the phone.
Q: What about heat?
A: When playing outdoors, reduce the risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke by planning your adventures for the cooler morning and dusk hours. Avoid direct exposure to the sun between 11am. and 4pm., and always keep yourself and your kids well-hydrated.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat. Warning signs include:
- cold, pale, clammy skin
- sweating a lot
- muscle cramps
- feeling fatigued or weak
- dizziness or fainting
- rapid, shallow breathing
- fast, weak pulse
If your child shows these signs, take his or her temperature. If it is above 103.1 degrees Fahrenheit, your child may have heat stroke, which is a potentially deadly situation. This child needs to be treated as soon as possible at an emergency room.
If your child’s temperature is below 103.1 degrees and he or she does not appear to be in any distress, you can usually treat the heat exhaustion at home. Give your child water or even better, a sports beverage with electrolytes to drink. Soak your child in cool water with a bath, shower or even a hose if that is what is closest at hand. Have your child sit in front of an electric fan. If symptoms worsen or continue for an hour, seek immediate medical attention at your nearest emergency room or urgent care facility.
Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley.