Beach days, BBQ dinners, wooded hikes…yes, summer is here. Of course, you should enjoy every minute of it but with caution in mind. As the days get longer and temperatures to rise, it also means a host of health hazards can happen. Things may be lush, green, and breathtakingly beautiful where you live or plan to visit, but beware – all that beauty also means special precautions for avoiding potential natural hazards that are lurking.
Here are six potential natural outdoor hazards to be aware of and how to manage them:
Excessive sun exposure
Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes sunburns, premature aging of the skin, cataracts, and skin cancers. No UV ray exposure is safe which is why it is important to be especially careful when spending a lot of time outdoors. Here’s how to manage those harmful rays:
- Cover up by wearing loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30
- Wear a hat with a wide brim, not a baseball cap. Wide-brimmed hats work best as they protect the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.
- Wear UV-absorbent sunglasses for eye protection. Sunglasses should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Read the product tag to make sure it does it before buying.
- Limit exposure to the sun if possible UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke
Heat and humidity are a potentially deadly combination during the summer months. Take precautions by doing the following:
- Drink small amounts of water frequently
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing – especially clothes made with cotton
- Take frequent short breaks in cool shade
- Eat smaller meals before working outdoors
- Work in the shade
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol or sugary beverages
- There are 3 kinds of major heat-related disorders – know the warning signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Lyme disease/Tick-borne diseases
Special precautions need to be taken to avoid the illnesses of tick-borne diseases. These diseases are transmitted to people by bacteria from bites of infected deer ticks. In most cases of Lyme disease, but not all, victims will develop a “bulls-eye” rash. Other signs and symptoms may be similar to flu-like symptoms such as a fever, lymph node swelling, neck stiffness, fatigue, headaches, joint aches, or muscle aches. If you work outdoors clearing brush, doing landscaping, farming, utility lines or park and wildlife management, protect yourself with these precautions:
- Wear light-colored clothes to see ticks more easily
- Wear long sleeves, tuck pant legs into socks or boots
- Wear high boots or closed shoes that cover the feet completely
- Wear a hat
- Use tick repellant
- Shower after work
- Examine your body for ticks frequently
- Remove attached ticks promptly with fine-tipped tweezers by gripping the tick. Do not use petroleum jelly, a hot match, or nail polish to remove the tick.
West Nile Virus
This virus is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. Symptoms can include fever, headache, and body aches, and occasionally a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands. Protect yourself in these ways:
- Apply Picaridin or insect repellant with DEET to exposed skin
- Spray clothing with repellents containing DEET or permethrin
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks
- Be extra cautious at dawn or dusk when mosquitos are most active
- Get rid of standing water to reduce mosquito breeding areas
Poison Ivy-related Plants
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac have poisonous sap called urushiol in their roots, stems, leaves, and fruit. Urushiol can be deposited on the skin by direct contact or contamination such as clothing, shoes, tools, and animals. Up to 85 percent of the general population will develop a reaction of an itchy, blistery rash. To lower your risk and protect yourself from these plants, do the following:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into boots. Wear cloth or leather gloves
- Apply barrier creams to exposed skin
- Know how to identify poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants
- If you do come into direct contact with one of these plants, use rubbing alcohol to remove the oil resin up to 30 minutes after exposure
Every year close to 300,000 people develop food poisoning and become sick enough to either have to visit their doctor or even be hospitalized. These incidents often occur during summer months when hot weather and fresh food that’s not kept well-chilled or thoroughly cooked when picnicking or grilling, can result in an unfortunate case of foodborne illness.
Symptoms associated with food poisoning may range from mild to severe depending on what you ate and can include an upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, fever, and diarrhea.
To reduce the risk of eating contaminated food leading to food poisoning, here are a few ways to prevent it:
- Keep raw meat wrapped and separated from other foods
- Keep all meat, cheese, eggs dishes, fresh fruit and vegetables, and any other food requiring refrigeration, in insulated coolers until ready to cook or eat.
- Wash your hands regularly, especially when preparing food
- Prepare meals on clean surfaces
- Cook meats thoroughly
- Don’t eat food that normally is refrigerated, that has been left unrefrigerated for more than two hours