Summertime#039;s ills can be treated with ease

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 13, 2002

Summer is here.

And so are sunburns, bee stings, mosquito bites and a slew of other warm-weather ailments. Generally, these are simple to treat at home and in some cases, simple to prevent.


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It begins innocently enough. You go out to the garden to pull a few weeds and you don't put on sunscreen because you know you're only going to be outside for 10, maybe 15 minutes. Certainly not long enough to get a sunburn. You know better than to let that happen because you don't want skin cancer.

Next thing you know, two hours have passed and your arms, face and neck are bright red.


So now what do you do? According to Dr. Penelope Smith, Urgent Care chairperson at the Austin Medical Center, "obviously, the first thing you should do is protect it from any further sun. Applying an over-the-counter aloe vera gel is very good, very soothing and very cooling. You can use hydrocortisone cream to reduce the redness and swelling as long as it's not blistered."

If your skin does blister, it means you have a second degree burn which Smith says could be potentially dangerous because the blisters can be infected easily.

If your sunburn does start to blister, you should visit your doctor for treatment. You may also want to see a doctor if your sunburn covers a large area of your body, if you're in a lot of pain or if you have a young child who was sunburned, she says.

How do you protect yourself from getting sunburned? Use sunscreen and lots of it. How do you pick a sunscreen? Smith says you should look at the sun protection factor (SPF) because "the higher the number, the longer you can be in the sun without the threat of sunburn."

"Everyone should wear a 15 daily, but if you're in the sun a lot, it should be higher," she recommends. "If you're sweating or in the water, you should reapply it every two hours or so. The bottle may say otherwise, but you should put it on frequently."

Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke

Far more serious than sunburns are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Both occur when you do too much strenuous activity on a very hot day, but heat exhaustion isn't quite as severe.

According to Smith, "heat exhaustion has some easy to recognize symptoms. You'll feel very thirsty and you may feel too hot, and you can't cool down, but you're still sweating. You may also feel very tired."

If you're suffering from a heat stroke, she says, "you stop sweating and you look really hot. You're very red and you can't cool down. You also have a change of mental status. You'll feel confused and there will obviously be something wrong with you."

In either case, it's important to see a doctor right away.

To prevent yourself from a heat stroke or heat exhaustion, Smith says you should conserve your energy when it's very hot and drink plenty of fluids so you can continue to sweat.

Bee Stings, Tick Bites, Mosquito Bites

Summer health hazards aren't limited to the sun and heat, though. Bugs are rampant during the warm season and can be a problem for anyone. Bees, ticks and mosquitoes are some the more common offenders, but their bites and stings can be easily treated at home.

If you're stung by a bee and the stinger stays behind when the bee leaves, Smith says you should "use something like a credit card and rub it across the sting. That usually removes the stinger and most people have something like that at home."

Once the stinger is removed, she says you should "put ice on the area because that decreases the swelling and the pain. You can also use over the counter pain relievers like Tylenol, but those aren't things you have to do. The ice is the most important thing to do."

If you are allergic to bee stings and you don't have anything to treat the allergic reaction at home, Smith says you should go to a doctor right away. If you are stung and become dizzy and short of breath, she says you also should go to the doctor because those are signs of an allergic reaction.

Swelling right around the sting, however, is not uncommon or serious, she says. In fact, it isn't unusual to be stung on the arm and have your entire arm swell up.

If bees weren't bad enough, summer outdoor enthusiasts also must contend with ticks.

However, they are easily removed by using "a good pair of tweezers to grab it as close to the skin as possible to get as much of its mouth parts as you can," Smith says. "You shouldn't burn or traumatize it, though, because it can inject a bacteria that can cause an infection."

The most problematic ticks are the deer ticks which are infamous for spreading Lyme Disease. Smith says "Lyme disease is fairly common in the state and it's something you have to be aware of, but the deer tick is very, very small so you may not even notice it. If you know you've been bitten by a tick and you have a rash, you should have it checked out. There are blood test for Lyme Disease that can be done."

Bees and ticks seem very insignificant compared to the swarms of mosquitoes that fill the air every summer. Though there's no sure way to repel them, Smith says products with DEET seem to work the best. She says people should be cautious because "DEET is toxic and should be used in lower concentrations, look for concentrations of 6 percent or less, especially with children. Spray on the clothing, not the skin and if you do spray it on the skin, wash it off right away."

The itchiness of mosquito bites can be treated "with anything topical, anything over-the-counter like hydrocortisone cream," Smith says. "Mosquito bites that children have should be treated because they can get infected with bacteria if they are constantly scratched at."

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak

The itchiness of mosquito bites is nothing compared to poison ivy or poison oak. Most of us have not-so-fond memories of summer camp or exploring the woods or running through a field which resulted in long days of agony and big, pink bottles of calamine lotion thanks to some seemingly innocent foliage.

If you do have a run-in with poison ivy or poison oak, be sure to wash the part of your body that came in contact with the plants with soap and water and immediately wash your clothing, Smith says. The oils from the plant come off on your skin and clothing and can be spread if those are touched.

She also says "try not to scratch because that can spread the oils around."

If you do break out in a rash, "you can use hydrocortisone cream to calm it down. Calamine lotion and Benadryl help with the itching, but the steroid in hydrocortisone cream helps calm down the reaction to the oils and the itching."

If those don't work, or if you have poison ivy or poison oak on a sensitive part of your body, such as around your eyes, you should visit a doctor for a prescription, Smith advises.

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at