Summertime offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor activities, but your skin can take quite a beating. A little precaution and some basic medicines can take care of most of the downsides of playing outdoors, like sunburn, insect bites and rashes. Let’s review the basics of symptoms and treatment.
First, skin cancer is by far the most serious long-term problem caused by too much fun in the sun. New research has shown that frequent sunburns during childhood are a major risk factor for future cases of melanomas, which are the most deadly form of skin cancers. It’s crucial for parents to keep their children protected from serious sun exposure.
Proper clothing, hats and sunglasses help, as well as avoiding the peak sun times of 10am to 4pm. Sunscreens are also crucial, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 15 SPF is essential any time of year. Even in winter, everyone should consider using a facial moisturizer that includes sunscreen of at least 15 SPF. My personal favorite is Neutrogena Men’s Triple Protect, but you can find many options at Watsons and other local pharmacies. For children, a sunscreen of at least 15 SPF is best, although I personally always use 30 or 45. I don’t see much extra benefit for any SPF over 45.
Insect bites are very common during summertime, mostly from mosquitoes, bees and ticks. A bee sting usually isn’t too serious and can be easily treated with ice, calamine lotion, pain medicines and sometimes antihistamine creams. The most common antihistamine cream is diphenhydramine, also called Benadryl in the US. A low-dose steroid cream such as hydrocortisone, available over the counter from your local pharmacy, can also provide relief from itching and swelling. Severe allergic reactions to bee stings are rare but can be very serious, and your local doctor may need to provide emergency medicine quickly. If you have a history of severe allergic reactions, you should always carry a self-injectable epinephrine (usually called an EpiPen) for emergency use.
Mosquito bites are usually a minor annoyance but sometimes can cause illness from viruses or parasites which are carried by these insects. Most of the above treatments for bee stings also work well for the itching and swelling of mosquito bites. The most serious diseases include malaria. Anyone traveling to malaria areas should talk to their doctor about possible prescription medicines to take as a prevention. But in all cases, a proper mosquito spray is crucial. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two topical medicines for children after 2 months of age: DEET in 10-30 percent concentrations and picaridin 5-10 percent. Medicines such as citronella and other herbal sprays aren’t nearly as effective nor as long lasting.
One of my favorite summertime activities as a child involved picking blackberries from my backyard, but I often ended up with itchy welts all over my forearms from touching the leaves of poison oak and ivy vines. These itchy rashes (also called contact dermatitis) can often last for days but are usually easily treated with a lot of soothing calamine lotion, as well as topical antihistamine or steroid creams. If the itchy rash is driving you crazy and preventing you from sleeping, your family doctor can prescribe stronger anti-itch creams as well as the last resort – steroids.