Thursday, July 12, 2012

Being Safe & Healthy from Natural Summer Hazards

My husband is a freelance writer for several area newspapers and recently wrote this article.  I thought I'd share it with you.  Good things for families to know as they enjoy outdoor activities this summer...

With summer in full swing, the urge to spend as much time outdoors as possible is strong in many local residents. As men, women, and children hit the outdoors this summer and fall, a little prevention could ward off greater health issues. There are three potential outdoor hazards prompted by nature that are out in force this year. The natural outdoor hazards are poison ivy, mosquito bites and dehydration. These triplets, at minimum, cause discomfort while pursuing our outdoor activities and at worse can turn dangerous. Prevention is the best way to avoid the trifecta of summertime woes, but even the best laid plans don’t always work out.

Anyone who has experienced even a mild case of poison ivy remembers the irritation it provided. Those who have labored through an intense outbreak can attest to the sheer agony of the itch.  Dr. Melanie Kramer, whose family practice is located in Sandusky, commented, “I probably see one case of poison ivy a week.” Dr. Kramer is currently battling a case of poison ivy herself. She explained that raised red bumps in a small contained area caused by poison ivy can be taken care of by using hydrocortisone cream. Benadryl can help ease the itch and swelling as well. The at-home treatment will often take a few weeks to completely chase away the problem.

It’s often difficult to know when a case of poison ivy has progressed past the stage it can be easily treated at home. Dr. Kramer advises seeking medical help if the rash spreads and/or over the counter remedies can’t control the itching. At that point, it may be necessary to involve the use of steroids to battle the reaction.

However, preventing contact with the urushiol oil present in the plants ensures that no treatment is needed. “Leaves of three, let them be” is an age old adage that has kept many from enduring the wrath of the rash. Identifying poison ivy plants is the best way to avoid contact. The plants can be in bush, plant, or vine form. Another good idea is to wear clothing that covers exposed skin. This directly keeps you from coming into contact with urushiol. However, your clothing can hold the oil for extended periods of time. Therefore, handle all clothing and accessories carefully after being in the woods. Wash clothes in a washing machine with detergent if you come into contact with the truly noxious weed.
Leaves of 3 - Let them be!

There are also washing instructions for your body if you fear you have invaded the ivy’s realm. As soon as possible (preferably no more than fifteen minutes) shower using mild soap and water. After an hour the oil has seeped into your skin enough that washing won’t stop a reaction. If you’re banking on a frost to wipe away any concerns regarding poison ivy; you could be in for a surprise. Even dead plants can retain enough oil to initiate a reaction.

The next member of the triplets, mosquito bites, is an enemy that has plagued mankind for centuries. Unlike poison ivy, a few hard frosts tend to eliminate the winged warriors until warmer weather. Dr. Kramer does on occasion see patients that are experiencing an allegoric reaction to the bite, but a more common problem is the bite becoming infected. “That little break in the skin and the swelling can cause infection,” Kramer said. Mosquitoes carry the potential to spread diseases such as West Nile virus and malaria. A medical professional should be contacted if the infection worsens or if flu-like symptoms accompany the bite. As with poison ivy, mosquito bites can be treated at home using hydrocortisone cream for the itch and Benadryl for the swelling.

Early season prevention might deter serious health issues while making your time outdoors more enjoyable. A good preventative measure is using clothing to cover your exposed skin. This can keep the flying itch machines at bay. Mosquito suits designed to be functional while providing protection are great ways to stay outdoors when the swarms are still present. Many of these suits have netting as the base of their construction, so bugs can’t penetrate its web-like force field. If a person isn’t concerned about odor then aerosol repellent will provide a layer of chemical protection. Remember to re-apply if the original coat washes away. The creation of technology used by products such as Thermacell has revolutionized bug protection. With little or no odor, a shield of protection is generated in a fifteen feet radius encasing the user. Fewer bugs equal more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors of Michigan.

A third preventable potential outdoor hazard is dehydration.  With the temperatures nearing triple digits last week, anyone venturing outside was forced to drink plenty of liquids. However, when temperatures return to the comfortable high 70s and low 80s people tend to feel the need to hydrate diminishes in direct correlation with the temperatures. Because of this, many outdoor people forget routine procedures such as drinking liquids. Dehydration, if left unattended, can quickly turn into heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Obviously, the best way to stay hydrated is to carry lots of water. Avoid soda and/or alcoholic beverages because they can aid in the dehydration process. Dr. Kramer suggests using electrolyte replacement drinks such as Gatorade and PowerAde if extended losses of fluids are anticipated. “In general, the best choice is still water,” she added. Create a checklist that not only includes your gear, but also several bottles of water. A canteen, water bottle, or thermos can all be purchased in different designs. They even have backpacks that contain a water storage system. The pack includes a hose that the wearer can drink from. Another good suggestion is to eat fruits and vegetables high in water content. These shouldn’t be the sole source of fluids, but they can slow down the dehydration process.

The key to preventing the “triplets” of outdoor hazards from getting you this summer is preparation. If prevention or at-home remedies don’t eliminate a bout with poison ivy, mosquito bites, or dehydration then be sure to seek medical treatment. Don’t allow a minor outdoor irritation to turn into an extended hospital stay.

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