For many, thinking about summer conjures familiar, pleasant memories: blue skies, warm sun, white sands, picnic tables, frozen treats, fireworks, campfires and more. But behind those pleasant images lies the reminder that the happiest summers come from practicing prevention and caution.
According to Dr. Cathleen Veach, summer can bring unique hazards to our health and safety.
“In winter, we think of car accidents or slips and falls, but people need to be alert to pests, sun exposure, breathing hazards and the dangers of outdoor activities this time of year,” she said. “Sometimes safety is overlooked because we’re too busy enjoying ourselves.”
Families can focus on four areas that require minimum effort to help keep them happy and healthy this summer, said Veach, chief quality officer of PinnacleHealth Medical Group, Newport Family Care.
The rate of burn injuries increases substantially during summer, said Veach.
“Campfires, grills, fireworks and sparklers can be extremely dangerous, particularly to children,” she said. “Parents should be vigilant about preventing roughhousing or sports anywhere near campfires or hot grills.”
She also cautioned that fireworks should always be used in accordance with each product’s directions, away from people and flammable materials, and with all recommended safety and fire prevention equipment at hand.
“Responsible sun exposure is one of the best disciplines you can practice for lifelong good health,” said Veach.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays cause skin cancer, and sunlight is the main source of UV rays.
“Melanoma is the most dangerous kind of skin cancer,” she said. “When treated early, it is highly curable, but in its later stages, it can spread, be difficult to treat or even be fatal.”
Veach said that skin cancer rates continue to increase. Because sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, she counsels that the best defense is prevention, like staying out of the sun when its rays are strongest (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), using sunscreen and sunglasses and wearing UV-protective clothing when outside.
Most people don’t realize that poor air quality can have serious short-term and long-term effects on health.
Ozone is an invisible air pollutant that is worsened by sunlight and hot weather.
“Ozone and other pollutants can be dangerous for people with many conditions, including asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” said Veach. “Infants and toddlers, the elderly, people who labor outside and others can also be severely impacted by poor air quality.”
Experts recommend checking the air quality index (AQI) for daily ozone and particle pollution conditions in the area.
“People can watch the local weather report and read the newspaper for AQI information,” said Veach. “Depending on the AQI and the source of pollution, different groups are recommended to avoid or limit outdoor activities or exposure.”
The Environmental Protection Agency offers a free app (AIRNow) that can help people protect their health when planning their daily activities.
In addition to sun protection, multiple outdoor activities require extra caution.
According to Veach, ticks and mosquitos are a potential problem for many outdoor activities.
“Insect repellent and protective clothing are the first line of defense in preventing bug-borne illnesses like West Nile virus and Lyme disease,” she said.
Another outdoor activity that requires caution is cycling. Cyclists should obey all traffic laws and wear helmets and clothing that make them highly visible.
“Even for seasoned cyclists, refreshing knowledge on rules and regulations promotes safety, and many communities offer free safety courses for families,” Veach said.
Water safety is also a serious concern.
“When swimming, caution should prevail in every setting—pools, lakes and the ocean,” she said.
Veach said it’s a good idea that all swimmers be reminded to observe posted restrictions and warnings that are related to diving, pollution, rough conditions, riptides and more.
In addition, experts recommend only swimming with someone else, even in pools.
“Accidents can happen any time, and swimming with a capable adult can make the difference between life and death,” said Veach.
She recommends that ocean-goers swim only when supervised by a lifeguard and that every swimmer be trained on what to do when they encounter trouble, like riptides.
“An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure,” said Veach. “Attending community safety courses, changing your schedule to avoid the sun, altering plans to avoid high ozone days, and applying sunscreen or insect repellant are things anyone can do to protect their health.”
No one wants a trip to the ER to be a summer memory.
“Most activities require a small amount of planning or preparation to ensure everyone’s safety,” Veach said.
She added that, too often, she sees the regret people suffer because they didn’t take action to protect their loved ones.
“It’s a terrible feeling knowing that you could have done something and didn’t,” she said. “The best way to have a great summer is to understand risks and plan accordingly. Once that’s out of the way, that feeling of preparedness creates a positive energy that can add to the fun.”
For more information about summer health and wellness, visit www.pinnaclehealth.org.