HomeSectionsHealth & FitnessHEALTH MATTERS 5/27: Staying Safe This Summer

HEALTH MATTERS 5/27: Staying Safe This Summer

By Joseph V. Portale, MD

With the start of the summer season right around the corner, many people are preparing to take to the great outdoors.

Whether you plan to spend days on the beach or nights by the campfire, don’t let your summer adventures lead to a trip to the emergency room.

Keep these summer safety tips in mind so you can stay healthy and injury-free.

Beat the heat. More than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and thousands of others need to go to the emergency department for heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion. You can beat the heat by avoiding strenuous outdoor activities, especially during the hottest parts of the day, and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, regardless of your activity level. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible.

If you or someone you know starts to show signs of heat related illness, such as dizziness, headache, nausea, and fainting, seek immediate medical attention.

Wear sunscreen. To prevent sunburn and protect against the sun’s damaging rays, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Don’t forget to reapply it at least every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

In addition to putting on sunscreen, wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your head, face, and eyes. Seek shade whenever possible.

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, you may need medical treatment.

When in doubt, throw it out. While warmer weather means an increase in dining al fresco, it also means an increase in the risk for food poisoning. Eating food left out in the heat for too long can make you sick. To avoid food poisoning, the 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. Don’t hesitate to throw away any food that has been left out in the sun too long.

Seek medical attention if you have symptoms of severe food poisoning that last more than three days, such as frequent vomiting, dehydration, or diarrhea.

Don’t get bit. Mosquitos, ticks and other insects love summer, too. While in most cases their bites and stings are harmless, they can be painful and itchy, and in some instances, can carry diseases. To prevent insect bites, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an insect repellant that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing.

If you develop symptoms such as a rash, fever or body aches after an insect bite, see your doctor. If you have a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting, call 9-1-1.

Keep in mind that insects aren’t the only things that bite. Bats, for instance, are common in this area and can transmit rabies. If you are bitten by a bat or other wild animal or even suspect you may have bitten, seek emergency care.

Act fast to prevent poison ivy rash. Whether you are working or playing outdoors, you are at risk for encountering poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. When the oils from these plants get on your skin, they can cause an allergic reaction, including a rash, swelling, itching, and blisters. If you think you touched one of these plants, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends acting fast and immediately washing the part of your skin that came in contact with the oils. If a rash develops, it can typically 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.

Leave the fireworks to the pros. In 2020, more than 15,500 people were treated in emergency departments for fireworks injuries, with 66% of injuries occurring in the month around the July 4th holiday, according to the Consumer Product Safety Committee. Most injuries were to the hands and fingers, head, face and eyes. While fireworks are a festive way to celebrate summer, it’s best to leave them to the pros.

Swim safely. Always keep an eye on children when they’re near water and avoid distractions.  Pools should be fenced off and emergency equipment such as a life ring should be close by. Make sure to 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, too. Also remember that alcohol and swimming don’t mix. Stick to non-alcoholic beverages to help prevent accidents and reduce your risk for other injuries.

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 specially trained nurses.

A Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) pediatrician is in the Emergency Department every day from 2–10 p.m. and is easily accessible in the hospital at all other times.

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

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

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