Monday, June 12, 2000 Bucks County, Pennsylvania

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Beat the Heat . . . and the Bugs

Be Safe While Having Fun in the Sun

By Patricia Coen
Sirius Communications LLC
Richboro, PA

There’s nothing more glorious than a sunny summer day. The bright blue skies and warm golden glow are an irresistible invitation to head to the beach, the park, the picnic grounds—anywhere outdoors, where you can bask in the day’s beauty. To make sure that your summer days remain trouble-free, be prepared for the hot weather, and protect yourself from getting too much of a good thing.

The Hazards of Heat

A summer day outdoors can be restoring to your soul, but hard on your body. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is the importance of hydration—sweating helps keep you cool, but it can quickly deplete your body of essential fluid which, in extreme cases, can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Make sure you drink plenty of liquids, ideally water, during hot weather, at least eight glasses per day, and more if the heat is extreme. If you’re having an active day outdoors, intersperse your water consumption with electrolyte replacement drinks, such as Gatorade, All Sport, or Citomax, to make sure that your sodium/potassium balance stays at a safe level. Or, make your own sports drink with Quic Disc Sports Drink Tablets. Ingest your fluids cold or cool—this gets fluid out of the stomach and into your system more quickly. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Remember, alcohol doesn’t count as a liquid, and neither do iced coffee or tea or caffeinated soft drinks—all will deplete fluids from your body, not increase them. Be aware that, although a cool breeze can make you feel as though there’s less danger of dehydration, wind can in fact hasten dehydration by removing perspiration from your skin.

    If you find yourself getting uncomfortably warm, take a break and find a shady spot where you can rest. If you’re on the beach, at the pool, or by a lake, a dip in the water will do the trick as well. If neither shade nor swimming is an option, soak a cloth in cool water and use it to sponge your face and head. For more ongoing relief, wring out excess water and wrap the damp cloth around your neck. There are higher-tech options, of course, such as the Sharper Image’s personal cooling system, if you prefer a cooling gadget that can also be used indoors (and won’t drip!). The Personal Cooling System 2.0 is wearable around your neck and houses a patented, miniature evaporative-cooling system. Very cool stuff (no pun intended).

    If you or someone in your group overdoes it, look for the warning signs of heat exhaustion: fatigue, nausea, cramps, headache, dizziness and uncoordinated movement. People with heat exhaustion should stop working or exercising and move into shade or air conditioning or take a cool shower; drink fluids such as Gatorade to replace lost salt; and rest. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, a more serious condition that can cause brain damage or even death, because it shuts down the mechanisms that cool the body. Sweating stops, so the skin feels dry to the touch; other symptoms include dizziness, confusion, unconsciousness, and a rapid, strong pulse. If you suspect heat stroke, try to cool the person’s skin with water or a damp cloth, and get professional medical help immediately.

    Tanning is tempting, but it’s really not a good idea. Those gorgeous bronze skin tones can carry a very high price later on in the form of skin cancer, wrinkles, and mottling. Don’t let vanity overwhelm your better judgement. Make sure you use a sunblock—level 15 or higher—and reapply it throughout the day. For extra protection and comfort, wear a light-colored hat.

    When packing your picnic hamper, include fruit along with the sandwiches and sweet treats. They’ll add to your fluid intake, and give you a healthy vitamin and nutrient boost.

Keep Pests in Their Place

Remember that you’ll be sharing the great outdoors with nature, which is always beautiful but not always welcoming. Be on the lookout for poison ivy, recognizable by its cluster of three smooth, small leaves on each stem. Should you come in contact with the plant, wash the area immediately with cool water to remove all traces of its irritating urushiol oils. There is no cure for the rash once it begins, only relief of the symptoms, which can last for a full month. Minor itching, pain, oozing, and swelling can be relieved with over-the-counter anti-itch treatments that contain zinc acetate, diphenhydramineHCI, menthol zinc oxide, or hydrocortisone. In severe cases a physician can prescribe antihistamine creams, tablets, or shots. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re immune to poison ivy because it didn’t affect you as a child. Many adults have discovered, to their uncomfortable dismay, that they’ve developed an allergy to it. Since 75% of the population is allergic to urushiol oils, it’s likely that you are too. And keep your pets out of dense foliage—they can get the oil on their fur just by brushing past it, and then transfer it to your skin.

    Don’t wander into thick vegetation, which may harbor rash-inducing plants, Lyme-disease causing deer ticks, or insect nests that will not take kindly to be being disturbed. Should you have an encounter with a bee or wasp, act quickly to minimize damage. If a stinger is embedded in skin, use the edge of a credit card to scrape it away (trying to pull it out can release more poison). Normal symptoms of insect stings include a quick, sharp pain, swelling, itching, and redness at the sting site. They can be treated by gently cleaning the area with soapy water, then putting a cold compress on the sting for about 20 minutes. Don’t put ice directly on the skin. Try to keep the sting area lower than the heart, and if possible, apply a paste made of meat tenderizer (such as Accent) to the area. It seems to break down the protein in the venom. Take aspirin or ibuprofen for the pain, and an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, for the swelling and itching.

    If there is an allergic reaction to the sting (characterized by severe swelling of the face, tongue, lips, or all over, weakness or dizziness, difficulty in breathing or swallowing, hives, diarrhea, and stomach cramps), immediate medical assistance is necessary to prevent shock and possibly even death. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction usually happen within an hour of a sting, so keep a close eye on the patient. If you or someone in your family has had a severe allergic reaction to a sting in the past, you should always carry an emergency kit that contains adrenaline, a needle to inject it, an antihistamine, an inhaler that contains adrenaline, and an instruction sheet that explains how to use the kit, which can be obtained through your doctor.

    Although nothing will discourage a really angry bug from taking its best shot, many bugs can be kept at bay with repellants applied to your skin. Check your local drug store for a variety of options, including wristbands that keep bugs at a distance. You can also find lotions and other products, at your local grocery store or on the web, that will help keep bugs out of the area you're enjoying. Some bug repellant lotions also double as sunblock, such as Avon’s SkinSoSoft.

    When your day is over, if you’ve been in a grassy area, check yourself very carefully for ticks, which can be as small as a pinhead. If you find one, remove it by using tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible and pulling very gently. You’re not trying to pull the tick out just yet, you’re just trying to convince it to release its grip on you. Take care not to crush the tick, which can release germs into your bloodstream. If, after a minute or two, the tick remains stubborn, put a drop of rubbing alcohol on it. Don’t overdo it . . . one drop a minute for ten minutes should work nicely.

    Once the tick is out, inspect it to determine if it's intact. If the head has broken off, either go deeper with the tweezers (and don't worry about crushing the remains), or make an appointment with your doctor to have the site cleaned and checked for infection.

    Be careful when disposing of the tick—despite your prodding and even the alcohol, it’s probably still alive. If you think it may be a Lyme-carrying deer tick, seal it in a plastic bag so that you can have it analyzed for the disease. If it’s not a deer tick, seal it up anyway before tossing it in the trash or, better yet, flushing it away.

    Swab the site of the bite thoroughly with an antiseptic, and keep it clean and dry. If it’s irritated or itchy, use calamine lotion and take an antihistamine.

Pets Need Your Help

Your dog or cat can’t pack his own Gatorade, and he can’t tell you when the heat is getting uncomfortable for him. He depends on you to keep an eye on him. Don’t ever leave a dog or cat (or a hamster or a ferret or a parakeet) in a car alone during the summer, not even for three minutes, not even with the window open, not even in the shade. The insides of cars get very hot very quickly, and heatstroke can occur within very few minutes, with death the likely result. No quick run into the local convenience store is worth that kind of risk.

    Exercise your dog in the early morning or evening hours, instead of during the middle of the day when it’s the hottest. Remember that asphalt and concrete can get very hot and burn the pads on your pet's paws, so don’t go for long walks on hot sidewalks. Dogs must always have shelter available to protect them from extreme temperatures and inclement weather. Keep your pet well-groomed, but don’t try to keep him cool by shaving off all that hot-looking fur. That coat keeps him from getting sunburned, and acts as cooling insulation.

    Remember that exertion in hot weather is no better for your dog than it is for you. Make sure that you always have cool water available for your dog, bringing it along if you walk or run together. If your dog gets overheated, offer him water, then wet him down . . . use the garden hose if it’s handy. If he doesn’t seem to bounce back to normal immediately, take him to the veterinarian right away. As with humans, heatstroke can cause death very quickly.

Putting It in Perspective

Above is a pretty scary list of worst-case scenarios. Don’t decide that it’s better to hit the video store and spend the summer on the couch—it’s not. The glory of a perfect summer day is one of life’s rare gifts, and the memories of such days can sustain you through a long, dreary winter. Go outside, have fun, and make those memories—just remember to pack some bug repellant, sun block, first-aid kit, and other sensible supplies along with the fishing rod, the DiscMan, and the Frisbee.

© Sirius Communications, 2000.

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