Summer 101: Protect Yourself in the Wild

Macro photograph of a deer tick held between index finger and thumb.

Be one with nature, but play it safe this summer

Warm days mixed with cool vacations are a perfect recipe for spending more time outside. Whether you’re camping in the woods, hiking in an exotic locale or simply exploring close to home, a few tips can ensure you stay safe while enjoying the wilderness.

“Having a first-aid kit available and stocked with essentials is critical,” said Dr. Steven Tang of Novant Health UVA Health System Bristow Run Family Medicine. He recommended standard kits that include Band-Aids and antibacterial ointments but suggested some additions.

“Tweezers to remove splinters are always useful in the summer months,” he said. “I’d also include a pain-relief spray such as a lidocaine spray with aloe for use after burns—whether it’s a sunburn or an accidental sparkler burn from fireworks.” Make sure all products and medications have not expired, he added.

Other Tips

Be practical about poison ivy and poison oak.

“When to seek medical attention is really a matter of the extent to which you have a poison ivy or poison oak rash,” Tang said. “If your rash is extensive to the point that applying cream over the area isn’t practical—if it’s all over or in multiple places—your doctor can prescribe an oral treatment of steroids which will dry things up more quickly.”

He reminded parents to be especially mindful that exposure to the oils from the plants doesn’t have to entail being outside or around offending plants. “Pets can easily transfer oil from poison oak and poison ivy from their fur to children, and we see a lot of rashes on kids that way,” Tang said.

Beware of mosquitoes and ticks.

“Everyone is worried about tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses,” Tang said. “It’s important to make sure you have enough DEET protection to repel them.”

If you are bitten, any reaction up to a quarter or half dollar size is a localized reaction that doesn’t require medical care, Tang said. “If the border of your bite reaction starts to creep beyond that, you should see a doctor.”

He recommended using a buddy system to check family members for ticks and other insects after time spent outdoors. “If you are bitten by a tick, be mindful of the secondary features of Lyme disease, such as flu-like symptoms, fevers and knee pain. Make sure you know what to look for,” Tang said.

Mosquitos are no joke either. Mosquitos can carry West Nile Virus, and a bite from an infected mosquito can cause someone to become seriously ill or, in rare instances, may be fatal. Use insect repellant and clothing to protect against mosquito bites.

Be wary of stings that mean something more.
“It can be hard to tell initially if the reaction you’re experiencing from an insect sting or bite is normal,” Tang said. “Bee, wasp, yellow jacket, hornet, and fire ant stings most often trigger allergies.”

Signs of an anaphylactic reaction to a sting include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives that spread beyond the sting
  • Swelling of the face, throat or mouth
  • Wheezing or difficulty swallowing
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure

Any reactions of this nature require emergency medical treatment as soon as possible. Carry an epinephrine auto injector (sold under brand names such as EpiPen) if you or a family member has a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings.

If stung by a bee, wasp, or hornet, wash the site with soap and water. Remove the stinger with gauze or by scraping a fingernail over the area—never squeeze or use tweezers, according to the CDC. Apply ice to reduce swelling, and avoid scratching which may increase swelling, itching, and the risk of infection.

If bitten by fire ants, rub the ants off briskly, consider taking an antihistamine and monitor for signs of anaphylaxis. Seek medical care for any snakebite.

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