Outdoor Summer Safety
Monday, August 05, 2013

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel

Summer is truly here again! With all of the outdoor activities you’re sure to take part in, we should review some basic ailments that come with the warmer weather.

Tick bites: Ticks are easy to find in New Jersey, especially if you engage in outdoor activities. Even if your only exposure to the “great outdoors” is a walk with your dog, you’re still at risk of coming into contact with ticks.

There are a few different species of ticks present in our area; all are capable of causing illness in humans. Patients are most commonly concerned about contracting Lyme disease, although a tick bite can cause a number of other illnesses as well. Symptoms of Lyme disease include: a known or suspected exposure to tick bite; fever; headache; fatigue; and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans, which has the appearance of a bull’s eye.

If your physician suspects Lyme disease, he or she may choose to perform a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Lyme disease is easy to treat with a few weeks of antibiotics, but if left untreated, it can progress to more serious disease. The easiest way to avoid Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses is to practice prevention: use insect repellants and wear long sleeves and pants if you will be in wooded areas. Before returning indoors, perform a tick check and promptly remove any insects.                   

Poison ivy: Poison ivy is also common in this area of the country. This plant produces oil called urushiol, which causes skin reactions in sensitive persons. You may be exposed through direct contact with the plant, or with items which have touched the plant (garden tools, clothing, and animals). Burning brush containing poison ivy can cause the urushiol to aerosolize, and can lead to lung irritation if proper respiratory protective equipment is not used.

After contact with poison ivy, sensitive persons develop a red rash within a few days; there is usually also itching, swelling, and raised bumps or blisters.  Treatment is symptomatic and includes topical hydrocortisone or calamine; cool compresses; oatmeal baths; and antihistamines. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe oral steroids. If you are exposed to poison ivy, you should immediately wash exposed areas with rubbing alcohol or degreasing soap, taking care to rinse frequently; scrub under your fingernails; and clean all exposed clothing in a separate wash cycle with hot water. To prevent exposure to poisonous plants, you should wear long sleeves, pants, gloves and boots when working with brush or when poison plants are likely to be present.          

Sunburn: While exposure to UV light is a concern year-round, summertime seems to bring out our need to worship the sun. Sunburn occurs when the UVA and UVB rays from the sun cause damage to skin cells. Sunburn can be recognized by reddening of the skin, tenderness to touch, pain and swelling after sun exposure. Severe burns can lead to blistering and even fatigue and headache if they cover a large part of the body. More seriously, severe burns greatly increase the risk of developing melanoma; with repeated low level exposure, UV rays also lead to basal and squamous cell skin cancers. Treatment for sunburn includes cool compresses, topical aloe or moisturizing lotions, oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Prevention is key: wear UV protective clothing, as well as broad-brimmed hats; stay in the shade, and frequently apply a broad spectrum sunblock with SPF of 15 or higher.

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel is a Family Medicine physician and a member of the Kennedy Health Alliance. She practices in West Deptford, NJ, and can be reached by calling 856-384-0210.