Keeping Your Family Safe Outdoors

Summertime means more time outside, and that’s a good thing for both kids and adults. It also means making sure your family is safe from concerns that aren’t a problem other times of the year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have tips to keep your family safe outdoors dealing with:

Sun Safety

When it comes to sun safety, the primary concern is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which causes most cases of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer. Excessive exposure to UV light as a child can show up as skin cancer as an adult, so early precautions to protect your child’s skin now can pay off in the future. The CDC recommends protecting skin by:

  • Seeking shade, especially during late morning through mid-afternoon.
  • Wearing clothing that covers your arms and legs.
  • Wearing a hat with a wide brim that shades your face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wearing sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.
  • Remember to reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.

The CDC has additional information on each of these points.

Mosquito and Tick Bites

Mosquito and tick bites are not just painful annoyances, but potential sources of diseases like West Nile Virus(mosquitos) and Lyme disease(ticks). While both of these diseases are relatively rare, occurrences both West Nileand Lyme diseasein Illinois have increased significantly in the last 15 years. The CDC’s recommendations for protecting yourself and your family from mosquito and tick bitesinclude:

  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellentcontaining DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), Para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Do not spray insect repellent on skin under clothing.
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply the sunscreen first and insect repellent second.
  • Don’t use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old, and don’t use repellents containing OLE or PMD on children under 3 years old.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Check for ticks on yourself, your child, and your pet after being outdoors, especially if they have been near taller grasses and plants.

If you, your child, or your pet should pick up a tick, the CDC has instructions on how to safely remove it.

Poisonous Plants

The primary poisonous plants that people worry about in the United States are poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. The old saying “Leaves of three, Let it be!” is a helpful reminder for identifying poison ivy and oak, but not poison sumac which usually has clusters of 7-13 leaves. Even poison ivy and poison oak may have more than three leaves and their form may vary greatly depending upon the exact species encountered, the local environment, and the season. Being able to identify local varieties of these poisonous plants throughout the seasons and differentiating them from common nonpoisonous look-a-likes are the major keys to avoiding exposure. Check out the CDC page for pictures to help you identify these plants.

All three of these plants release an oil, called urushiol, when the leaf or other plant parts are bruised, damaged, or burned. When the oil gets on the skin an allergic reaction, referred to as contact dermatitis, occurs in most exposed people as an itchy red rash with bumps or blisters. When exposed to 50 micrograms of urushiol, an amount that is less than one grain of table salt, 80% to 90% of adults will develop a rash. Burning these poisonous plants can be very dangerous because the allergens can be inhaled, causing lung irritation. Exposure to urushiol can come from:

  • Direct contact with the plant
  • Indirect contact, such as touching tools, livestock, or clothing that have urushiol on them
  • Inhalation of particles containing urushiol from burning plants

The CDC has information on how to identify exposure to a poisonous plant and how to treat it.

Photo © 2010 by Stefan Jacobsunder Creative Commons license.