Summertime safety goes beyond sunburns and tick-borne diseases. There are other risks, and the experts at Consumer Reports have some advice to help you avoid them.
Stings: Bees, wasps, yellowjackets, hornets and fire ants
Prevention: In most cases, these insects attack only to defend themselves (no need to use repellents, because they are ineffective).
- Avoid disturbing a hive or swatting at a hornet or wasp.
- Look out for the large dirt mounds that fire ants live in and be sure not to step or sit on them.
- Wear shoes outdoors, refrain from wearing perfume or scented lotions, and control food and garbage odors.
Treatment: A sting is painful or itchy for most but can be life-threatening for people who are very allergic.
- For a bee sting, remove the stinger and venom sac by scraping side to side with a credit card.
- For all stings, cold compresses or an ice pack will slow absorption of the venom.
- Apply a topical hydrocortisone, antihistamine, or anesthetic to relieve pain and itching.
- Seek medical attention pronto if you have signs of an allergic reaction, including hives (a widespread rash of itchy, red skin bumps), excessive swelling, difficulty breathing, and dizziness.
Rashes: Poison ivy, oak and sumac
They are the trifecta of poison plants, thanks to urushiol, an oily resin in the leaves that provokes a blistered, itchy rash in most people. Pets and clothes can pick up the sap, too, and smoke from burning the leaves can carry it into the lungs.
Prevention: Familiarize yourself with each plant’s features. Poison ivy and oak both have three leaves in clusters and grow as shrubs or, in the case of ivy, vines; poison sumac is a tall, treelike shrub with rows of leaves. In addition:
- Wear closed-toed shoes, long sleeves, and long pants to avoid inadvertently brushing against the plants.
- If you know (or think) you have come into contact with one of them, wash the area promptly with mild soap in cool water and scrub under your nails with a brush.
- Rinse clothing thoroughly and hose off pets to remove any oils from their fur or hair.
Treatment: Apply cool compresses and an over-the-counter hydrocortisone to ease the intense itch. Then:
- Dry up oozing blisters with calamine lotion, oatmeal baths, or zinc oxide.
- Try not to scratch: Although it won’t spread the rash (unless the oil is under your nails), it could lead to an infection.
- For a bad case, a doctor may recommend a prescription corticosteroid.
Between 2006 and 2010, about 620 U.S. deaths per year were attributed to excessive heat, reports the National Center for Health Statistics. Older adults (especially those with chronic health conditions), kids 4 and younger, and African-Americans are the most at risk of heat-related illness. Men are at a higher risk than women.
Prevention: The keys to staying cool in extreme heat:
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids (but not sugary drinks or alcohol, which are dehydrating).
- Stay indoors in an air-conditioned place—whether your home, a mall, a movie theater, or a local library.
- If you don’t have access to air conditioning, take a cool shower or bath to keep your temperature down.
- If you must be outdoors, refrain from strenuous activity, including exercise and yardwork.
Treatment: Watch for signs of heatstroke: weakness, cold or clammy skin, delirium, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, headache, and convulsions. Have the symptoms? Get out of the heat and go to an emergency room right away. Left untreated, heatstroke can lead to permanent medical problems or, as noted, death.
Athlete’s foot, jock itch
Highly contagious fungi called dermatophytes multiply in warm, moist, dark spots—think the inside of your athletic shoes post-workout or a wet bathing suit. When they invade the skin, the result is an itchy, brownish-red rash between the toes, in the groin, or even under a woman’s breasts. And they generally won’t go away on their own.
Prevention: Avoid staying in clothes or shoes that keep your skin wet, such as wet swimsuits, athletic gear, and workout shoes. Specifically:
- Wear flip-flops or other shoes poolside and in locker rooms, including in showers and saunas.
- Consider wearing synthetic athletic socks that wick away moisture to keep your feet dry.
- Don’t share towels with others.
Treatment: Wash the area daily with soap and water, then dry thoroughly. Then use over-the-counter antifungal medicine like clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF and generic) or miconazole (Micatin and generic) for at least two weeks. And see a doctor if your symptoms worsen or don’t clear up within four weeks.
When water is trapped in your ears, it can lead to a bacterial infection that causes pain, itching, and inflammation: swimmer’s ear. Too much moisture can change the microflora of the ear canal, which allows bacteria to multiply.
Prevention: After a swim, tilt your head and tug your ear lobes in various directions to help clear out lingering water, then dry ears with a towel. Prone to ear infections? Wear a bathing cap or ear plugs when you swim and ask your doctor whether homemade ear drops of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol in equal parts might help. And refrain from using cotton-tipped swabs to clear your ears.
Treatment: Use antibiotic ear drops: They kill bacteria faster and more thoroughly than oral antibiotics and are less likely to breed resistant bacteria. If the infection spreads beyond the ear, or if you have another condition, such as diabetes, it might make sense to take an oral antibiotic.