Summertime brings picnics, beach trips, gardening, and many more outdoor activities. As a child growing up in North Georgia, I can remember my grandpa saying “Why are we heading outside to eat when we have a perfectly fine house to eat in?” I have enjoyed the irony of that sentiment as I spent many summer nights in a camper with my parents on the shores of Lake Lanier. The nostalgia of the fireflies, smell of sunscreen, and campfires is poignant and brings back many cherished memories. Unfortunately, however, summertime is not always fun and frolic. There are many dangers that we do not consider when heading out to enjoy our summer activities.
As we know well, summer often contains days and weeks of bright sunshine. The sun feels good on your skin and quickly banishes the memories of cold winter nights. The first, and primary, factor in summertime safety is applying adequate sunscreen with the appropriate SPF (sun protective factor). A waterproof sunscreen is essential at poolside or at the lake. According to the Food and Drug Administration, when outside – even on cloudy days – we should use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF rating of 15. The FDA also recommends limiting your exposure to the sun to between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. as this is when the sun’s damaging UV rays are strongest. Sunscreen will not provide 100% protection, so hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing are also essential. Apply protection to your face, ears, neck and nose regularly. Wear waterproof sunscreen when engaging in activities around the water.
While you are out enjoying the Georgia sunshine you should also remember to stay well hydrated. We are at increased risk for overheating specifically on days when the humidity is elevated. Humidity prevents the body from evaporative cooling. The CDC recommends drinking one cup (8 ounces) of water every 15-20 minutes while outside during hot days. Drinking too much water carries its own risks as well. Electrolyte (levels of sodium within the body) can fluctuate causing you to feel ill. Sports drinks, like Gatorade, contain electrolytes and may be a good alternative. Alcohol increases the risk of dehydration and should be avoided while outdoors in the heat.
Another cherished activity for many of us during the summer months is gardening. Whether it is flower or vegetable gardening, there is a great deal of relaxation and joy in planting seeds and watching them grow and produce blooms and vegetables. Garden tools with sharp edges and heavier equipment like shovels and rakes should be handled with care. Accidents with outdoor equipment are frequent causes for Urgent Care and Emergency Room visits. To reduce the risk of injury if using outdoor power tools, always wear sturdy footwear, safety glasses, gloves, long pants, sleeves, and hearing and/or eye protection.
There are several species of venomous snakes that live in our area including Copperheads, various rattle snakes, Cottonmouths, and the Eastern Coral Snake. Check out available guides (online or in print) for the correct identification of these animals. In order to avoid a dangerous encounter with a snake, survey your surroundings carefully. Avoid stacking items such as bags of mulch and potting soil as snakes often seek these cooler spots on a hot day. Use a long stick to check piles of yard debris for any concealed visitors.
Staying active is essential to good health. Activities like hiking, boating, canoeing, and bicycling are effective methods of exercise. Orthopedic injuries including sprain, strains, and fractures increase during the summer months as we become more active. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear, clothing, safety helmets, and other protective clothing specific to your hobby/activity. While active, you are at increased risk for falls and other injuries so gear-up appropriately. Always wear a life jacket while on the water. Stay informed about local weather conditions. If you can hear thunder you can be struck by lightning. Take shelter during a storm and wait for it to pass.
North Georgia is beautiful. Summertime sunsets are often spectacular and nighttime can bring a chorus of insects and wildlife. Fun and activities with family and friends often draw us out of indoor air conditioning. Fireflies and starlight produce magical nightly shows. The outdoors call to us with promises of enjoyment and beneficial exercise. With the correct preparation, knowledge, and effective planning, we can enjoy the beauty of North Georgia summers safely and for many years to come.
Danny S. Webb, DNP, FNP-C, is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner working in the Internal Medicine and Urgent Care departments at Longstreet Clinic. He also serves as the group’s Primary Care Clinical Director.