Not Fun in the Sun: 5 Things You Want to Avoid This Summer

Summer is here, and almost everyone can find something to love about the season. Between the warm weather, flowers growing, the smell of barbecue, visits to the pool or ocean, and fun summer trips, the warm-weather months are full of great activities for kids, families, and everyone else, as well. As we approach summer and early fall, although most people are busy thinking about the good parts of these months, there are actually many things you want to look out for and avoid.

Warmer weather brings more chances to be outside, but it also brings many different bugs, dangerous plants, the opportunity for sunburns, foodborne illnesses, and even heatstroke and dehydration. These problems can make your summer long and miserable, so you should be prepared for them ahead of time. All five issues can be mostly avoided if you plan carefully, so read on to find out what each of these issues entails and how to avoid them.

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1. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac

A rash from or a reaction to one of these three plants can be one of the itchiest and worst feelings you may ever experience. The plants can cause a horrible rash called allergic contact dermatitis on your skin. Usually the rash shows up in lines or streaks and includes fluid-filled blisters or hives, but different people can have varying levels of reaction to the plants. The telltale rash often shows up within eight to 48 hours after you initially come into contact with the plant, but it can take much longer. The rash is not contagious; you can only get it from touching the plant. However, if you touch the plant and touch something else, you can reinfect yourself by touching the object again.

Eastern poison ivy is often rope-like, with three shiny green (or red) leaves that all bud from one stem; Western poison ivy is a shrub (low to the ground) that also has three leaves, and may have yellow or green flowers, as well as white to green-yellow amber berries. Poison oak looks similar to a poison ivy shrub with three leaves, but may be vine-like. It has yellow or green flowers and also sometimes has green-yellow or white berries. Poison sumac is a woody shrub with stems that contain seven to 13 pairs of leaves. It also can have berries, and they are usually pale yellow or cream-colored.

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2. Sunburns

Most of us have experienced sunburns, and although some people decide to intentionally tan in the summer, a number of us would avoid sunburns if we could. Sunburns can be extremely painful, in addition to potentially leading to cancer or wrinkles. You easiest best to avoiding sunburns is to stay inside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. However, this often isn’t possible, so your first line of defense if you are going to be outside is to use sunscreen. Using a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, lip balm with SPF, and clothes with sun-protective fabric will also help. Even if you have to be outside, you can try to limit your time in direct sunlight. Children and the elderly should be especially careful.

3. Heat stroke

Heat stroke, also called sun stroke, is the most serious form of heat injury. Although many people think heat stroke is related to sunburns, it is actually more common for people who are inside homes or apartments with high temperatures and without adequate airflow. Not drinking enough water or drinking too much alcohol can also increase your chances of getting heat stroke, which you have if your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

If you think that you recognize someone with heat stroke, you need to call 911 immediately, and if possible, give first aid help. Heat stroke can cause damage to the brain, internal organs, and even kill you. It primarily affects people older than 50, but it can also harm others. Heat stroke usually happens after initial issues like heat cramps, fainting, or heat exhaustion progress to a much worse degree, but you can also get heat stroke without any other earlier indication of too much heat. Dehydration is often also involved with heat stroke; symptoms include nausea, headache, muscle weakness, breathing issues, confusion, seizures, and sometimes loss of consciousness.

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4. Foodborne illnesses

Foodborne illnesses peak in the summer, so you have to be even more careful with your food during this time period. Bacteria are always present in the soil, air, water, and in our bodies and the bodies of animals, but the microorganisms grow faster and flourish in the warmer months. Also, there are more chances for cooking and handling food outside of a kitchen — think barbecues, camping trips, and picnics. The usual safety controls (thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and water to wash your food) are not always available.

There are several ways you can protect yourself. Wash your hands and cooking surfaces regularly, avoid cross-contamination (keep raw meat separate from veggies, etc.), cook everything as long as it needs to be safe, and use ice packs or other methods to keep foods cold if you can’t refrigerate them. Vomiting, diarrhea, fever, cramps or abdominal pain, and chills are common signs of food poisoning, so watch out for those. Usually you will be uncomfortable but will recover on your own; occasionally, a trip to the ER is necessary for serious cases.

5. Insect and spider bites

Bug bites are not fun. When you are working in your garden, be sure to wear gloves to avoid spider and other potentially nasty bites. Mosquitoes are the most active at dawn and dusk, so try to stay inside during those times, or use DEET or another repellent if you must (but not on young kids). Wearing light-colored clothing and avoiding too many scented perfumes or body washes/shampoos will help keep wasps away. Unfortunately, certain biting flies are attracted to dark clothing, so you can’t rely on coordinating your summer closet to keep unwanted pests away. However, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you are in the woods or near tall grass can help you avoid ticks or other nasty bites.

Mosquito bites and tick bites can have more serious consequences, but usually will not. Some people experience severe allergies to certain bug bites. If you see someone who begins to sneeze or wheeze, gets hives, becomes nauseous, vomits, gets diarrhea, has sudden anxiety, becomes dizzy, has trouble breathing, feels their chest tighten, or experiences extreme swelling of their eyes, lips, or other part of their face, call 911.

Summer is a fun time filled with exciting outdoor activities. If you prepare yourself to watch out for these common issues, you should be set for a great summer.

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