Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Don't let summer scratch and burn

As fun heats up, take precautions to stave off season's perils

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        We wait for this all year, you know.

        We curse the snow and wind-chill factors. We shiver in the wintry winds of winter, longing for the days of hot, steamy summer.

        Well, it's here, and so are all the uh, amenities that make summer worth waiting for. Like sunburns, smog alerts and bee stings (which, all in all, are preferable to road salt, snow emergencies and frozen water pipes, aren't they?)

        Here's a quick guide to summer's setbacks, and what you can do about them.

        Most people know the routine by now, but do they really follow the advice to stay out of the sun?

        Here it is in a nutshell:

        • As much as possible, avoid the sun's most damaging hours, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

        • Always wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of least 15, especially if you're fair-haired, light-skinned and burn easily. Wearing T-shirts to the pool or beach can help.

        • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to cover the face, ears and neck.

        • Wear pants and long-sleeve shirts when out in the sun.

        • Keep infants out of direct sun.

        • Stay away from tanning parlors.

Itchy ivies
        They look harmless enough, three-leafed plants that make the woods and ground look so green and summery.

        But poison oak and poison ivy, if touched by sensitive people, can lay down an oily film that causes intense itching, blisters and pain.

        Products like IvyBlock, available at pharmacies, coat the skin to reduce the possibility of poison oak and poison ivy reactions. (According to a recent Enquirer readers' participation story on home remedies, the laundry soap Fels Naptha can often cut the oil of poison ivy and reduce the itching).

        Ivy's rules: avoid three-leafed plants/vines. Poison ivy's three notched leaves are red in spring, shiny green in summer, orange-red in autumn with flowers that turn to whitish berries.

        Poison oak is a bush or vine with three-leaf clumps that resemble the leaves of a white oak tree.

        For both, use calamine lotion to reduce itching and dry out the skin. See a doctor for severe reactions or rashes. Don't scratch poison ivy (it spreads). Remember that furry pets can transfer the ivy oils to your skin; so can clothing that's come into contact with the ivies.

Things that bite
        Slap them. Swat them. Get out the can of Raid. It all helps, but chances are the mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers and fleas will find you somehow.

        Basic bug precautions:

        • Mosquitoes: They breed in standing water and live in shrubs and bushes. Bites can cause itchy red welts and can spread several forms of encephalities. Apply ice or baking soda to bites; encephalitis (headache, drowsiness, fever, convulsions, muscle tremors) must be treated immediately. Use repellents and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.

        • Ticks: They live on human (and animal blood). At best, they're annoying and creepy. At worst, infected ticks can spread diseases (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease and human granulocytic ehrlichiosis). Wear repellents, long pants and sleeves, especially in woods. Remove ticks gently, pulling the head straight out of the skin. Wash with soap and water. Save the tick in case it needs to be tested.

        • Chiggers: They live in sandy soil, tall grass/bush, at the edges of woods and cause painful red welts, usually around waistbands or where clothing rubs. Wash with soap and water; use calamine lotion.

        • Fleas: Keep flea collars on dogs and cats. Shampoo pets frequently. If the house becomes infested, carefully use flea products on pet bedding, carpets (read directions). Apply calamine lotion to rashes and bites.

Things that sting
        • Bees, wasps, hornets: Their stings can be painful, and to people who are allergic or sensitive to bee venom, stings can bring on severe reactions. If you're allergic, carry an emergency epinephrine injection pen with you at all times; if you're stung, use the pen and go immediately to the emergency room. For general first aid: remove the stinger gently, wash the site with soap and water, apply ice. Be careful when drinking from soda pop cans (bees and wasps get inside for the sugar).

Smog/ozone alert
        They've already started, those sticky days when the air looks yellowish gray and it feels as if you're breathing through a blanket.

        When the sun reacts with nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbones, it forms ozones — an invisible gas that sears the throat and pollutes the air. What to do?

        • Stay inside in air-conditioning as much as possible. This is especially true for children, older people and those with asthma, breathing problems and lung disease.

        • Don't use gas-powered lawn tools/mowers until after 6 p.m.

        • Take public transportation as much as possible; don't refuel autos or trucks during daylight hours.

Heat emergencies/dehydration
        Too much heat can make people sick and drain the body of necessary fluids as it tries to cool itself.

        • Drink plenty of water. Cool down with showers, baths and recreational swimming.

        • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.

        • Eat light meals. Avoid alcohol, which further robs the body of fluids.

        • Do not leave children and pets in closed cars or trucks. Temperatures can rise rapidly, causing coma and death.

        • Stay in basements and air-conditioned rooms, if possible. If you don't have air-conditioning or a fan, find a city “cool” shelter.

        • Check on neighbors who might need help.

        • Make sure pets that stay outdoors have plenty to drink.

Dog bites
        They might growl or snarl. It's possible they might just stand there staring, attacking and biting without warning.

        Dogs can bite at any time of the year, but with children more active in the summer, the risk exists.

        According to government estimates, about 4.7 million people were bitten by dogs in 1994 (the last year anyone kept count), and about 800,000 of the victims sought medical care. In 1995-96, at least 25 people died from dog bites/maulings.

        During 1994-96, rottweilers were the most common breed reported in dog-bite attacks. Others likely to bite: pit bulls, German shepherds; huskies, Alaska malamutes, Doberman Pinchers and Chow Chows (and crossbreeds of those dogs). Male and unspayed/unneutered dogs are more likely to bite than female and spayed/neutered dogs; dogs roaming in packs are more often involved in attacks.

        Some dog-bite prevention tips to keep in mind and to teach children:

        • Never approach an unfamiliar dog.

        • Never run from a dog and scream.

        • Stay still (“be like a tree”) when an unfamiliar dog approaches you.

        • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still (“be like a log”).

        • Do not look a dog in the eyes.

        • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.

        • Do not pet a dog without letting it see you and sniff you first.

        • Never play with a dog unless there's an adult nearby to supervise.

        • Do not leave an infant or child alone with a dog.

        • Do not teach dogs aggressive tricks (wrestling). Teach submissive behaviors, like rolling over.

        • Get medical care for all dog bites, and report all dog-bite attacks.

        Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Enquirer files; American Cancer Society; Off!; National Safety Council's First Aid Handbook.


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