How to Avoid Sunburns, Bug Bites, Poison Ivy and Other Summer Skin Hazards

If you’re going to live summer to its fullest, you’re probably going to be outside. But an encounter with poison ivy or a swarm of hungry mosquitoes, maybe topped off by a painful sunburn, can quickly turn a perfect summer adventure into a bad memory.

There are steps you can take, however, to prevent these summertime skin hazards from interfering with your plans.

The medical professionals at Chesapeake ERgent Care are experts at handling summer skin disasters but much prefer you spend your summer playing outdoors than sitting in one of their exam rooms. So they’re happy to provide tips that may help keep you out of their offices this summer.

Respect the sun

Protecting your skin from a sunburn probably tops the list of summertime health tips, and there’s good reason for that. An hour, sometimes less, in the sun can leave you feeling crisply broiled rather than nicely baked, especially if you skip the sunscreen.

You’ve heard it before, but it’s always worth repeating — apply sunscreen liberally before you go outdoors and reapply frequently to any areas of skin not protected by clothing. Slather sunscreen on 15-30 minutes in advance and reapply every 60-90 minutes — more often if you’re swimming or sweating. Don’t forget your ears and the back of your neck.

Even the best umbrellas or shadiest patios don’t always protect you from rays bouncing off the water and other reflective surfaces. Use sunscreen even if you plan to laze in a shady spot on the deck all afternoon.

Other ways to prevent increasing your risk of sunburn, skin cancer, and premature aging include:

  • Wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect that sensitive part line or thinning patch of hair on your head, as well as your neck, ears, and face
  • Investing in clothing, including outdoor sports gear as well as everyday attire that’s designed to block sunlight — the higher the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) listed on the label the better
  • Choosing sunglasses with wraparound frames and lenses that provide UVA and UVB protection

Many medications increase your sun sensitivity, including ibuprofen, antihistamines, certain antibiotics, and cholesterol-lowering drugs. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure your medicine mixes well with the sun.

Beware the plants that bite

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac all contain an oily resin called urushiol, which is present in their leaves, stems, and roots. Many people are allergic to this sticky substance, which easily attaches to your skin, clothing, or a pet’s fur. Even minimal contact can cause an itchy, long-lasting, misery-producing rash.

The best way to prevent these types of rashes is to avoid the plants that cause them. You can do this by:

  • Learning how to identify these plants in all seasons, because their appearance can change dramatically throughout the year
  • Sticking to cleared hiking trails or pathways
  • Wearing protective clothing such as shoes, socks, pants, long sleeves, and heavy gloves when clearing brush

If you’re exposed to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you might be able to avoid a rash by washing your skin thoroughly with soap and water within 30 minutes of contact, including under your nails. Washing after an hour may at least reduce the severity of the rash.

Your pet isn’t allergic to urushiol but can transfer the substance to you from his fur, so give your animal friend a nice soap-and-water bath if he’s been exposed. Clean your shoes, gardening tools, clothing, and other exposed items thoroughly, as well.

Most reactions occur with skin contact, but inhaling smoke from a fire that contains poison ivy, oak, or sumac, or ingesting the leaves, can cause serious, life-threatening complications as the urushiol interacts with your nasal passages, lungs, or digestive tract. Seek immediate medical care in that case.

Avoid bugs that sting

Mosquitoes are probably the most familiar summertime pests, but you also share outdoor spaces with bees, hornets, and wasps.

Ways to avoid these stinging critters include:

  • Using an insect repellent containing DEET as directed by age
  • Selecting a breezy spot for your gathering or using oscillating fans to create enough gentle wind to keep bugs out of your space (point one downward to blow away low-flying mosquitoes)
  • Leaving an area where you see numerous hornets, wasps, or bees, which could indicate a nearby hive or nest
  • Wearing shoes that protect your feet from insect stings and bites as you meander through flowering clover and grasses

If, despite your best intentions, you experience a summertime skin disaster, visit Chesapeake ERgent Care for treatment that can help soothe the burn, relieve the itch, and clear the rash.