by Richard L. Mabry, MD
Most people who are familiar with the classic Gershwin song can add, “and the livin’ is easy.” And it could be, but a little forethought and preparation can make it even easier. Read on for some suggestions you may find helpful.
Mosquitoes: These pests often disappear with winter weather, and we don’t think about them until warmer temperatures bring them out. The female mosquito is the one that sucks blood, and those bites can also transmit diseases such as the Zika and West Nile viruses. The most effective measure, of course, is to get rid of breeding grounds such as standing water, so mosquitoes aren’t a constant source of problems. Other than that, though, the best common-sense preventive is the use of a mosquito repellant on a regular basis, starting in the spring.
The chemical DEET has been proven safe for adults as well as children above 2 months of age. Choose a preparation with 10 to 30% DEET (N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide). The higher the concentration, the longer the repellant is effective, but even the lower concentration of DEET usually need not be applied more than once a day. Put the preparation on all exposed skin of adults, but avoid the hands of kids. (Any parent knows that those hands frequently go to the mouth. In addition, DEET is extremely irritating to the eyes).
If you prefer other measures, the Centers for Disease Control say that preparations containing picaridin (KBR-3023) or oil of lemon eucalyptus (P-menthane diol, or PMD) also prevent mosquito bites. In instances such as this, read the ingredients carefully to be certain one of those two is included. PMD is not recommended for children under age 3.
If you get mosquito bites (and no matter how much you try, some people will get bitten), what should you do? Despite our natural inclination, we should avoid scratching the bites—that only spreads the histamine the injury causes, as well as setting up possible infection. Some folks suggest the application of apple cider vinegar. I have seen excellent results when bites are treated with a commercial mouthwash (you can figure out which one) that contains thymol, eucalyptol, and menthol in an alcohol carrier. Topical antihistamine creams or ointments give relief in some situations. In this situation, I suggest doing an online search for treatment of mosquito bites and trying the ones that are most appealing until you find what works for you. Of course, those bites serve as further encouragement to apply mosquito repellant, since prevention is to be preferred to treatment.
Sunburn: Although mosquito repellants containing DEET need only be applied once a day, sunburn lotions or creams have to be reapplied several times if there’s continued exposure. Thus, it’s best not to use a combination remedy.
There are actually two types of protectants: sun blocks and sunscreens. Sun blocks, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, provide a physical barrier to the sun’s rays. Sunscreens penetrate the skin and chemically block those rays. Many compounds provide both types of protection.
When you buy a preparation, you may see the terms UVA and UVB. These are two types of ultraviolet rays. Think of it this way—the A stands for “aging,” the B for “burning.” Although screens are supposedly best against the B rays and blocks the A rays, most commercial preparations nowadays protect against both.
Most sunscreens are designated with a number, the SPF or sun protection factor, which represents the amount of protection against the burning effect of the sun’s rays. If you burn at 10 minutes, an SPF of 15 allows you to be out for 150 minutes (10 times 15) before reapplication is necessary. This will be affected, of course, by activities such as swimming, sweating, etc. that can wash away the preparation faster. Most dermatologists recommend an SPF of 30. There are very small differences in the blocking effect above SPF 30, and higher numbers may give a false sense of security to the user.
Cuts and bruises: Having reared children and grandchildren, I recognize that outside activities increase during the summer, and with this increased activity comes the inevitable scrapes, cuts, bruises and injuries all children go through. I can’t give everyone who reads this a list of which ones are severe enough to warrant physician attendance—this comes with experience—but I will encourage everyone concerned to do two things to prepare for these.
First, make sure your home is stocked with first aid supplies, preferably all in one easily accessible location. This includes adhesive bandages (of all sizes), gauze, tape, scissors, hydrogen peroxide (for cleaning wounds), antibiotic ointment, and both pediatric and adult strength analgesics such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
The second, and God forbid that you ever need this, is to have the phone number and location of your medical assistance provider easily accessible. Some injuries require medical attention, and whether this comes from your physician, a hospital emergency room or a freestanding emergency clinic, it’s best to be prepared and never need the information than to try to think clearly in the face of a true emergency.
So that’s it—a few suggestions to help you enjoy the summer. I hope you have a good one.
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