Summertime offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor activities, but your skin can take quite a beating. Sunburns, insect bites and itchy rashes are an inevitable outcome of the fun outdoors, but a little precaution and some basic medicines can usually take care of all the but most serious cases. Let’s review the basics of symptoms and treatment.
First, skin cancer is by far the most serious long-term problem from all of the above maladies. Unfortunately, new research has shown that frequent sunburns during childhood are a major risk factor for future cases of melanomas, which are the most deadly form of skin cancers. Therefore, it’s crucial for parents to keep their children protected at all times from serious exposure. Proper clothing, hats and sunglasses help, as well as avoiding the peak sun times of 10am-4pm. Sunscreens are also crucial, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 15 SPF should be an essential tool for all days. Even in winter, everyone should consider using a facial moisturizer that also includes sunscreen of at least 15 SPF. My personal favorite is Neutrogena Men’s Triple Protect, but you can find many options at Watsons and other local pharmacies.
For children, a sunscreen of at least 15 SPF is best, although I personally always use 30 or 45. I don’t see much extra benefit for any SPF over 45.
Insect bites are very common during summertime, mostly from mosquitos, bees and ticks. A bee sting usually isn’t too serious and can be easily treated with ice, calamine lotion, pain medicines and sometimes antihistamine creams. The most common antihistamine cream is diphenhydramine, also called Benadryl in the U.S. A low-dose steroid cream such as hydrocortisone, available over the counter from your local pharmacy, can also provide relief from itching and swelling. Severe allergic reactions to bee stings are rare but can be very serious, and your local doctor may need to quickly provide emergency medicine if needed. Those of you with a history of severe allergic reactions should always carry around self-injectable epinephrine (usually called an EpiPen) for emergency use.
Mosquito bites are usually a minor annoyance but sometimes can cause illness from viruses or parasites which are carried by these insects. A typical bite can cause similar skin reactions as the bee stings above, and most of the above treatments also work well for the itching and swelling of mosquito bites. The most serious diseases include malaria, and anyone traveling to malaria areas should talk to your doctor about possible use of prescription medicines to take as prevention. But in all cases, a proper mosquito spray is crucial. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two medicines for children after 2 months of age; these are DEET in 10-30% concentrations, as well as picaridin 5-10%. Other medicines such as citronella and other herbal sprays aren’t nearly as effective or long-lasting as these two approved medicines.
One of my favorite summertime activities as a child involved picking blackberries from my backyard, but I often ended up with itchy welts all over my forearms from touching the leaves of poison oak and ivy vines. These itchy rashes (also called contact dermatitis) often can last for days but are usually easily treated with lots of soothing calamine lotion as well as topical antihistamine creams. If the itchy rash is driving you crazy and preventing sleeping, your family doctor can help by prescribing stronger anti-itch creams as well as the last resort — steroids, via injection or pills for a few days.
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