by Lauren Dwinell, M.D.
With the first day of spring now behind us, many are looking forward to summer and all that it brings; a break from homework, summer vacations, swimming lessons, and of course, the beach. Along with all the sun and fun are some medical issues that are unique to summer. Some of these are highlighted in this article with ways to prevent and treat should they occur.
Probably the most common of summer issues is sunburn. Living where we do, we have beautiful sun drenched days all year long so sun protection should actually be a year round priority. Just one severe sunburn in childhood can as much as double melanoma risk for later in life. Even with our best intentions of sunscreen and limiting time in the sun, we sometimes still get that tender, red skin that reminds us of the sun’s power. A sunburn is damage to the skin from the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. When it affects just the top layer of the skin, redness and tenderness develop. This is a first degree burn. Second degree burn is more damaging and is manifested by red skin that then forms blisters. It is often more painful and takes more time to heal. It is capable of scarring the skin. Those with fair skin, light features and freckles are more at risk. However, darker skin types, while not as prone to burns, still are damaged by the sun’s rays which can cause long term damage.
The best thing is to prevent sunburn. Try and stay out of the sun between the hours of 10am-4pm when the sun is at its strongest. Remember that some of the worst burns occur in overcast weather. Sunscreen is still needed, even when the marine layer is present. Reflective surfaces like water, glass and even snow intensify the rays and can worsen a sunburn. Sunscreen should be SPF 30 or higher. Broad spectrum (which means both UVA and UVB protection) is recommended. Some are worried about the most common ingredient in most sunscreens like oxybenzone and avobenzone. These are FDA approved for use in sunscreen. If their use concerns you, compounds like zinc oxide which provide a topical barrier without absorption into the skin can be used. Clothing can be protective but needs to be darker in color. Clothing with sun protection is available for purchase. This protection usually decreases with repeated washing.
Should prevention fail and sunburn arise, supportive care is usually all that is needed. Cool compresses or showers can help the discomfort. Soothing, cool lotions such as aloe vera can help topically. Loose clothing, fluids and acetaminophen can all be used to help with the pain. Should a second degree burn develop, do not break open the blisters, and do not cover the area.
The medical name for this is otitis externa. It is an infection and inflammation of the canal of the ear. A protective lipid layer gets removed (usually by water, dirt, sand or debris), leaving a red and swollen canal. Symptoms include itching, clear or thick discharge, pain of the canal with pulling the earlobe and even hearing loss from the discharge plugging the canal. Generally once it has developed, the over-the-counter drops are not that helpful. It requires prescription antibiotic drops and sometimes the placement of a foam wick into the canal. Should the above symptoms arise, an appointment would be warranted. Once it has occurred, it is more likely to occur again. The over-the-counter drops can be put in the ears after swimming to help prevent recurrent infection. You can also make a home remedy with white vinegar and alcohol mixed 1:1 and put 2-3 drops in the ear canal after swimming.
Anyone who has had a jellyfish sting knows how painful they can be. By acting correctly when they occur, it may help decrease the discomfort. The best treatment is to soak the area in vinegar and hot water. If this is not available, rinse with salt water. Do not use fresh water, this can release more toxins. It is also not recommended to urinate on the area as is popularly believed. Meat tenderizer, baking soda or a cloth soaked with ¼ strength ammonia can also be used. Once it is decontaminated, any remaining tentacles can then be removed with sticks or a gloved hand. Ice, antihistamines and acetaminophen can all help the discomfort.
There are varying degrees of heat related illness, the most common being heat exhaustion. It can occur after prolonged exposure to heat or physical activity in hot weather. Symptoms include headache, thirst, weakness, nausea, cramping and dizziness. There is usually profuse sweating. It should be treated with moving to a cooler place, cool fluids (water or sports drinks work well, no alcohol or caffeine), fans if available, loose or no clothing. If the person is able, giving a salty snack can also help replace salts lost by perspiring. Should sweating stop, disorientation or confusion develop, these are more consistent with heat stroke. This is a medical emergency and 911 should be called while doing all of the above.
Enjoy your summer!!
The contents of this web site are provided as an informational tool. This is not intended to replace medical advice or care administered by a healthcare professional. Common sense should always be used when referencing this site. If, at any time, you feel your child is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.