If anything defines summer, it’s sunshine and the opportunity to spend some time in it.
And while you won’t throw out your back shoveling snow, and a slip-and-fall hip fracture is distinctly uncommon, summer has its own set of challenges, starting with said sunshine.
Sunshine is industrial strength radiation produced by the sun, the ultimate nuclear fusion reactor, a fortuitous 8 light minutes from Earth. Someone has figured that the energy took about 100,000 years to go from the center of the sun to the surface where it is radiated. Sunlight is apparently like fine wine – who knew?
Our atmosphere screens out much of the carcinogenic UV radiation and lets in heat and light. A pleasant enough situation, until your first sunburn, that is.
Sunblock has come into its own in the last 20 years, preventing countless skin cancers. Sunblock takes time to bind to and protect the skin. You need to lather it on long (20 minutes) before you use it.
It breaks down like any protective coating and needs to be periodically reapplied – every 2-3 hours is the minimum safe interval. Otherwise, a sunburn will ruin your vacation, and your distinctly un-cheery attitude will help ruin everyone else’s.
A recent study showed use of sunblock every morning basically stopped visible aging for the five years of the study. That might just make the “bangs or Botox” dilemma a non-starter.
All that toasty radiation can also exceed your natural cooling systems and get you into heat trouble. Heat exhaustion makes you feel like a damp washrag. The best solution is to get out of the sun and get caught up on fluids.
The worst heat trouble is heat stroke. You stop sweating and often become delirious. This is a true emergency: you are getting close to cooking your precious body parts. Seek help immediately.
Speaking of cooking, what would summer be without the backyard barbeque? Most are propane fired. Propane is heavier than air so it pools in the bottom of the barbeque. That can be a surprise when the barbeque starts with a whoosh.
If it doesn’t start, turn the gas off and let it air out before trying again. Barbeques, like all fires, make carbon monoxide, which makes them strictly an outside proposition.
The only intentional burns around BBQs are the meat. Burnt animal flesh is not the healthiest of foods. A little marinade moistens up the meat, making it tastier and significantly reducing cancer causing chemicals.
But when the burnt animal flesh is your own, the first thing to do is cool the burn. Cold water should be close by and works well.
Then you think back to how long ago was your last tetanus shot? If you can’t remember, the answer needs to be today – so get moving.
If tetanus isn’t a concern, then you need to decide if medical attention is needed for the burn. Big burns (greater than a square inch), deep burns (skin charred), or burns where scarring would be bad (your face) need immediate medical attention. Other minor burns can be treated with an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment.
Higher temperatures can affect the side dishes at your picnic as well. Few mediums will support bacterial growth better than mayonnaise. Foods with a lot of mayonnaise in them, like potato salad or deviled eggs, need to be kept cold.
Every hour at room temperature increases the chance of food poisoning. Letting the potato salad sit out a couple of hours, refrigerating and putting it out tomorrow, is the classic way to get food poisoning.
Not only will that make you throw up like there’s no tomorrow, you may also lose your taste for potato salad. And wouldn’t that be a shame?
Moving on to the water, at least you don’t have to wait an hour after eating before swimming – pure urban myth. Kids and water are made for each other, but unfortunately, kids still drown every year.
If you’re going to have a pool party, hire the local swimming instructor to guard lives. They always know pool games and you will have a better time knowing the kids are safe.
And, when you’re swimming, remember sunblock washes off – even the waterproof kind.
So face the summer prepared: Sunblock, a cotton shirt and hat for portable shade, something to drink, and you’re set.
Don’t be hesitant to get outside, take a walk or ride a bike. Remember what it feels like to have a little wind in your hair
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /