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The dos and don'ts of summer fun

August 27, 2013

The school year may be almost over, but that doesn’t mean you should adopt a school’s-out attitude when it comes to your health. Regardless of your plans, heed these simple dos and don’ts to ensure you get a passing grade.

At the park

DO outsmart the bugs. Wear light-colored, breathable clothing—you’ll be less attractive to bees, which like bright colors. Light colors also make it easier to spot ticks. If you’re planning to be outside for an extended time, spray your clothes, not your skin, with a bug repellent that contains DEET. If you are stung or plagued with insect bites, ice the swollen area, says Meredith Barbour, MD, a family physician at Duke Primary Care Brier Creek. An over-the-counter antihistamine will help reduce the swelling and the itching.

DON’T ignore your body’s warning signs. If a sting or a bite is serious, your body will let you know fairly quickly. Hives, facial swelling, or trouble breathing may signal a severe allergic reaction and require immediate medical care. If you know you’re prone to a severe allergic reaction, carry an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen). If you develop a rash or a fever after a tick bite, see your health care practitioner, as it may be a sign of Rocky Mountain spotted fever or lyme disease.

At the backyard barbecue

DO eat seasonal produce. Visit your local farmers market or grow your own. “Fresh fruits and vegetables add color to meals, taste better, and are loaded with vitamins and nutrients,” says Brinkley Sugg, RN, FNP, a family nurse practitioner at Duke Primary Care Morrisville. Meet the daily-recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables by adding berries to salads, grilling pineapple and summer squash, and snacking on watermelon.

DON’T grill meats over high heat. Studies suggest it breaks down muscle proteins in meat and creates a cancer-causing substance, which can jump-start the cancer development process, Barbour says. Shorten grill time by microwaving food first.

On the court

DO know the air-quality index. Air pollutants are measured via a color-coded, daily air-quality index. “High levels can cause breathing problems for people with asthma, lung disease, or heart problems,” Sugg says. When the air-quality index causes concern, individuals at risk should spend more time indoors and limit strenuous activity.

DON’T think you can beat the heat. Whether you’re exercising outdoors or enjoying time with family and friends, staying hydrated is important. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses excessive amounts of water and salt through sweat. If you feel overheated or experience headache, dizziness, nausea, or cramps, Barbour says stop what you are doing. “Move into the shade or cool off in an air-conditioned building or car,” she recommends. Drink cool nonalcoholic beverages, take a cool shower or spray yourself with cool water. Apply a cold compress to your neck or armpits.

At the beach

DO protect your eyes from the sun. The sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and abnormal growths. “Once the damage starts, there’s no way to stop it,” Sugg says. Never look directly into the sun, and protect your eyes by wearing a hat and sunglasses whenever you are outdoors. Opt for eyewear that blocks 98 to 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays.

DON’T choose the wrong sunscreen. Some contain questionable ingredients that have sparked health concerns. For example, oxybenzone may interfere with hormones. Nanoscale zinc and titanium oxides have been linked to potential reproductive and developmental effects. Pregnant women should avoid sunscreens that contain retinyl palmitate. When choosing a sunscreen, a sun protection factor (SPF) around 30 is sufficient, Sugg says. Apply frequently, according to directions.

Recently, the FDA announced it is investigating potential risks associated with spray sunscreens, including inhalation risks. For this reason, Sugg recommends against spraying sunscreen on children. Instead, spray your hands first, then rub on the sunscreen liberally.

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