Health Matters 6/18: Summer Safety Tips


By Joseph V. Portale, MD

Summer is here. The beach is beckoning and the mountains are calling your name.

Wherever your travels may take you this season, avoid a trip to the emergency room by taking steps to stay safe while having fun in the sun.

Stay cool. As temperatures rise, so does the risk for heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. To help beat the heat and avoid illness, wear light-colored, loose fitting clothing and stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. Try to avoid strenuous outdoor activities, especially during the hottest parts of the day, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, regardless of your activity level.

Signs of heat-related illness that require immediate medical attention include dizziness, headache, nausea, and fainting.

Don’t get burned. When it comes to the sun, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to prevent sunburn and protect against the sun’s damaging rays. Make sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

Most minor sunburns can be treated at home with soothing moisturizers, cool baths, and aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain. If blisters occur, do not break them. If sunburn is severe and covers more than 15 percent of your body, and is accompanied by high fever, chills, or nausea, seek medical attention.

Keep bugs at bay. Mosquitoes, ticks and other insects can really take a bite out of summer. Not only can bites be painful and itchy, some insects like ticks and mosquitoes can carry diseases. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an insect repellant that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing. Additionally, if you’re hitting the trails or going to be out at night when insects are more active, cover up. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants and closed-toe shoes.

If you find a tick on your body, use tweezers to remove it carefully by pulling up with steady, even pressure. Do not twist, squeeze or crush the tick. Doing so can cause mouthparts to break off and stay in the skin. If you develop symptoms such as a rash, fever, or body aches after a tick bite or a bite from any other insect, see your doctor. If you have a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting, call 9-1-1.

Leaves of three, let them be. Commonly identified by its three leaves, poison ivy — and its cousins, poison sumac, and poison oak — can be found in backyards, wooded areas, and even the sand dunes at the beach. If your skin comes in contact with these poisonous plants, their oils can cause an itchy and painful rash that can range from mild to severe. In many cases, the rash can be treated with topical creams to reduce the itching. However, if the rash is widespread or on your face or genitals, professional medical treatment may be necessary.

It is also important to note that poison ivy should never be burned. The oils from the plant can be inhaled into the lungs and cause a severe allergic reaction.

Avoid food poisoning. Barbecues and outdoor parties are time-honored summer traditions. However, rates of food poisoning increase in the summer because bacteria grow faster in warm conditions. Eating food left out in the heat for too long can make you sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping foods cool and putting leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking — or one hour if it is more than 90 degrees outside. Throw away any perishable food that is not refrigerated. If you have symptoms of severe food poisoning, such as frequent vomiting, dehydration, or diarrhea that last more than three days, seek medical attention.

Practice water safety. Every day approximately 10 people die from unintentional drowning in the United States, making it the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury death for people of all ages, and the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for children age 1 to 14, according to the CDC. The CDC also reports that for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for non-fatal submersion injuries.

Whether you are gathered around the pool or playing in the ocean, be sure to take precautions to keep kids — and adults — safe in the water. Avoid distractions and always keep an eye on children when they are near water. Pools should be fenced off and emergency equipment such as a life ring should be close by. Wear life jackets on boats and only swim in designated areas at beaches and lakes. Children should never swim alone, and adults should practice the buddy system in the water as well.

The Center for Emergency Care at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center (PMC) provides state-of-the-art emergency medicine, treating patients with any medical problems that cannot wait to be seen by their regular doctor, as well as severe and life-threatening illnesses and injuries. The center is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is staffed around-the-clock by physicians who are board certified in emergency medicine and registered nurses who are trained in trauma, emergency care, and disaster preparedness.
Pediatricians from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are on-site 24/7 at PMC to consult on emergency cases involving infants, children, and adolescents.

To find a physician with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 888-742-7496 or visit

Joseph V. Portale, MD, is the interim chair of the Center for Emergency Care at Penn Medicine Princeton Health.