Go play outside this summer, but be safe about it

Posted by Patrick McGuire, M.D.
June 08, 2016

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Summertime means lots of outdoor time. No one wants warm weather fun to end due to an illness or injury. Here’s some advice to help you and your family stay healthy and stay out of Urgent Care, Express Care and the Emergency Department.

Sun Safety

Sun protection factor (SPF) ratings are used to measure how much longer someone may be protected from sunburn with a product than if no sunscreen were applied. For example, if someone normally would burn in 20 minutes of sun exposure, a product with an SPF of 15 would protect that person from burning for 15 times longer — in this case, five hours, assuming sunscreen was applied properly. 

SPF ratings refer only to UVB (Ultraviolet B) protection. You need protection from UVA (Ultraviolet A) and UVB. It’s important to check a sunscreen label to ensure that the product is a broad-spectrum sunscreen that also offers protection from UVA. Products that contain micronized zinc oxide, titanium oxide or avobenzone are best — they provide protection against both UVA and UVB.

Food Safety

Safe summertime food handling can reduce your risk of food poisoning. Follow these steps:

• Wash your hands. If soap and hot, running water are unavailable, clean your hands with disposable hand wipes before and after working with food. Remember, pets can carry germs, so don't go directly from handling the cat to paring potatoes.

• Cover it. Keep utensils and food covered until serving time. Flies and other insects and pets can carry salmonella.

• Cook food thoroughly. Make sure fish, poultry and meat are thawed completely before cooking. Many raw foods, especially poultry and other meats, commonly harbor bacteria. So, be sure they're cooked to the proper temperature all the way through.

Skin safety

If you come into contact with poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak, itching, reddened skin, blisters and hive-like swelling can occur. Rashes usually begin within 48 to 72 hours after exposure.

If you touch one of these plants, wash your skin immediately to reduce any allergic reaction. Calamine lotion and over-the-counter creams containing 1 percent hydrocortisone may also help.

Insect stings and bites may cause pain and swelling. If you experience any breathing problems, swelling of the lips or throat, faintness, confusion, rapid heartbeat or hives after a sting, seek emergency care.

Head safety

Wearing a properly fitted bicycle helmet can reduce serious head injuries by up to 80 percent. Just as children outgrow shoes, they also outgrow helmets. Check your child’s helmet for proper fit, and make sure adults in the household wear their helmets while biking or skating as well. Kids learn from the adults around them.

Child Safety

Beaches and municipal swimming pools tend to be busy during the brief Minnesota summers. Consider appointing an adult who is dedicated to watching children swim and ensuring their safety. If this person needs to leave, even for a short period, select another adult to fill this role.

Patrick McGuire, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato family physician.

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