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Summertime Threats: How to Protect Yourself From Common Outdoor Hazards

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By now, we all know that the threat of the novel coronavirus has disrupted many of our normal summertime activities. But while staying home as much as possible can slow the spread of COVID-19, there are plenty of safe ways to spend time outdoors.

That said, the term “safe” is relative. While you might not be putting yourself at risk of viral transmission by staying in your own yard, you could still be jeopardizing your health and well-being in other ways if you fail to take proper precautions. Whether you’re heading out on the nature trail or you’re sticking close to home this summer, here are a few additional threats you’ll want to be mindful of — and some ways to protect yourself.

Sunburn, Heatstroke, and Dehydration

When the weather turns warm, many of us like to soak up the sun — but that might come with a steep price. Although you may enjoy having a warm glow to your skin, there’s really no such thing as a healthy tan. UV rays from the sun can be extremely damaging, both in the short term and in the long term. What might be a painful sunburn today could end up increasing your risk of skin cancer down the line.

Although a recent study found that 86% of participants report using sunscreen sometimes or always during the summer, it’s important that you do so without fail — even when it’s cloudy or you don’t plan on spending time outside! Be sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above and apply 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. You should reapply every two hours or after sweating or swimming.

As a general rule, you should stay out of the sun as much as possible during the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when rays are the strongest. Wear a sunhat, sunglasses, and long shirts or pants when possible to limit your sun exposure. If you take any medications that make you more sensitive to the sun, you should be even more cautious. And of course, you need to hydrate as much as possible to prevent adverse health effects. Avoid working outside or spending too much time outdoors in extremely hot or humid temperatures to avoid the possibility of heatstroke. It’s a good idea to educate yourself about the symptoms of dehydration and heatstroke to ensure you can keep yourself and others safe.

Insect Bites

When the weather gets nice, the bugs will come out to play — and that can range from annoying to potentially dangerous for you. Mosquito bites aren’t just itchy; they can also transmit disease. And of course, ticks are becoming more common in many parts of the U.S., which means that Lyme disease should always be a concern.

Wearing long sleeves and pants, particularly if you’re venturing into a wooded or grassy area, can help keep these insects away. You’ll also want to limit your use of perfumes and other scented personal products to deter these bugs. One of the best types of insect repellent to use is one that contains DEET (an ingredient that’s safe for children as young as two months old). Repellents containing picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus can also be effective, though you should be sure to follow all instructions and limit your use based on age.

Aside from personal repellent, there are few other ways to keep bugs away. Remove standing water from your yard, keep up with your mowing and landscaping, and always check yourself and others for ticks upon returning from any outdoor activity. If other pests are bugging you (pun intended!) around the garden, try out some homemade insecticides like soap spray, neem oil, garlic, chili pepper, and more.

Poisonous and Allergenic Plants

Although nature is indeed beautiful, it can also be hazardous to your health. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are plentiful in many parts of the country — and if you don’t know how to spot them, you could soon be feeling miserable. The American Skin Association notes that 85% of the U.S. population is allergic to at least one of these poisonous plants, with 10% to 15% of people being extremely allergic. Around 50 million Americans experience this type of allergic reaction each year, and with more people spending time outdoors during the pandemic, experts are stressing how important it is to identify and avoid these plants.

Of course, it isn’t just plants with “leaves of three” that you’ll need to watch out for. Seemingly harmless species can trigger seasonal allergies, which can cause you to feel fatigued, stuffed up, sneezy, and otherwise under the weather. Annual weeds tend to produce a large number of seeds — sometimes ranging from 25,000 to 250,000 per plant! — which means there are plenty of opportunities for your allergies to act up. As a rule, you’ll want to remain indoors as much as possible on windy days and on days with a higher pollen count (and keep doors or windows closed on these days, too). Consider using air conditioners and other appliances with HEPA filters to relieve your allergies and rinse your sinuses if you’re experiencing ongoing issues. Over-the-counter remedies can be effective for some people, but your doctor may recommend you undergo an allergy test to determine what’s really behind your symptoms; in some cases, allergen shots may be recommended. For outdoor enthusiasts, being choosy about which days to venture outside and finding the right medication can work wonders.

For many of us, nature has provided a welcome respite during the pandemic. But in order to protect your overall well-being this summer, you’ll want to keep these hazards in mind before you head out of the house.

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