The Banes of Summer
It’s summertime. Be afraid. Be very afraid!OK, so I’m exaggerating a little, but along with the good times of sunning, swimming, picnicking and biking come the dangers of sunning, swimming, etc.
I’d like to go over a few summer concerns that affect parents as well as their children.
The Sun. We know it. We love it. We should respect it. By now, everybody knows that not only can the sun burn you, but it can also cause skin cancer—a potentially fatal problem.
Low-tech but effective protection such as long pants, shirts and hats are readily available (probably in your own closet), as is the shade from a tree or an umbrella. High-tech sunscreens are available in profusion. A field trip to my local chain pharmacy revealed more than 50 sunscreen products. Various brands are more alike than different, and they are quite protective if used as directed. An SPF (sun protection factor) of 50 lasts longer than an SPF of 15, but they are otherwise equally protective. Take waterproof claims with a drop of salt water. The product may be waterproof, but it is unlikely to be towelproof when you or your child comes out of the sea or pool. I would look for claims of both UVA and UVB ultraviolet protection. I would also recommend shopping by price.
Sunglasses that state that they protect against both UVA and UVB ultraviolet radiation are a wise idea as well. Dark glasses that are not specifically UVA and UVB protective can be worse than no glasses at all. The problem with sunglasses is getting young children to wear and not lose or destroy them.
The bottom line is that prudent exposure to the sun is fun, enjoyable and smart; unprotected exposure is not.
The Water. Obey any health advisories at public beaches. When the kids turn blue get them out of the water. If you have a pool, be sure the fencing is in good repair, and always, always be on alert. Playing in the waves can be great fun, but never underestimate the power of moving water. Teach your children to swim, and be able to swim yourself. You never know when you may be able to save someone else’s life.
The Bugs. Spiders are creepy, but they are rarely a danger in our part of the country. They also eat mosquitoes. Enough said.
Until the last one to two years, Lyme disease was not a concern in Central New York. Unfortunately, Borrelia burgdorferei, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, is now widespread in our area. As with all the topics I’m covering, simple, and low-tech prevention is the wisest course. Wearing long pants and sleeves can minimize the chance of tick attachment to your skin. This may seem impractical in many circumstances, but certainly should be considered when in wooded areas or when camping. Although the risk of infected deer ticks is highest in late spring and early summer, infection can occur through August. Wherever the deer roam, there is the possibility of infection. Deer ticks can also hitch a ride on your pet’s fur into your house. Carefully remove ticks with tweezers as soon as possible. Ticks attached for less than 24 hours are unlikely to cause disease.
Insect repellents do work and when used appropriately are safe. The gold standard in insect repellent is DEET. Toxicity is rare, but it doesn’t smell nice. New competition is provided by picardin, now found in many products, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Picardin appears to be quite safe, but its effectiveness may be less than DEET. Oil of eucalyptus is also safe, has an interesting fragrance, and seems comparable to low concentrations of DEET.
Although it’s not exactly a disease, summer brings with it the demand for physicals: college, camp, sports, school, employment. Unless you’re into large bribes, or you are the doctor’s secretary’s plumber or electrician, don’t expect physicals the same day or week that you call. Crying on the phone will get you nowhere. Plan well in advance.
Get outside, and enjoy global warming while you can.
Dr. Alan Freshman, father of two grown boys, practices at Syracuse Pediatrics. Consult your own physician before making decisions about your family’s health care. Send e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.