Summer Safety Tips for the Whole Family

Southcoast family medicine physician Dr. J. Tessa Draper provides advice on avoiding common warm-weather hazards

Mother Nature played hardball with southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island this year, but now it’s time to get up, get out and enjoy the warm summer days.

It’s also time to review summer safety. According to a study conducted by Brown University and the Rhode Island Department of Health, summertime emergency room visits shoot up 24 percent on days with a high of 85 degrees vs. 75 degrees.

To ensure a healthy, injury-free summer, here are several warm-weather hazards and ways to help avoid them.

Sun days

Excessive unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can lead to deadly skin cancers, such as melanoma. And no cosmetic cream can reverse the skin damage that comes with prolonged hours under the sun.

To protect your skin’s health, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends a waterproof, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. For best results, follow these sunscreen application tips:

  • Give your skin time to absorb sunscreen by applying it 30 minutes before heading outdoors.
  • Adults need about 1 ounce of sunscreen, or enough to fill a shot glass. There’s no set amount for growing children — only a warning to cover all exposed areas, including often overlooked spots, like ears, tops of feet, backs of knees and hands.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

Cool the burn

If sunburn becomes an issue, first get out of the sun. Next, the AAD recommends frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain, followed by a moisturizer, preferably with aloe vera or soy.

To further relieve discomfort, swelling and redness:

  • Try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream along with aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Drink plenty of water, since a sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and could cause dehydration.
  • If your skin blisters, let it heal naturally to avoid infection.

Take the plunge

For kids, cannon balls, Marco Polo and water slides are synonymous with a great day at the pool. However, ignoring water safety rules can result in serious accidents.

Here are several tips to keep children safe when they’re in or around a swimming pool:

  • Never leave a child alone in or near the pool.
  • Children under age 5 in a pool should be within arms reach of an adult who can swim and preferably knows CPR.
  • Make sure the pool area has handy rescue equipment, such as life preservers. Inflatable swimming aids are not substitutes.
  • Swimming lessons are smart, but no program “drown proofs” a child or adult.

Smooth sailing

Roughly 74 million Americans engage in recreational boating each year. Here’s how the National Safety Council recommends you stay safe — and have fun:

  • Children should wear a properly fitting Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times when on a boat, dock or near a body of water.
  • Inflatable toys and rafts are not a replacement for life jackets.
  • Before leaving the dock, make sure you have everything necessary, including a toolbox and first-aid kit.
  • Be aware that alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination, which can lead to disaster should an emergency arise.
  • Storm clouds, a sudden temperature drop or quickening wind speed are signals to head back to land.

A hot topic

When temps soar and sweat glands work overtime, dehydration can effect anyone – although the very young and elderly are more susceptible.

To help avoid dehydration, here’s a simple formula: Divide your body weight (in pounds) by two. The answer is the number of ounces of water you should drink daily. So a 150-pound woman needs 75 ounces of water daily, or at least nine 8-ounce glasses of water.

If worried about dehydration, check your urine’s color. Generally, you’re hydrated if it’s colorless or light yellow and dehydrated if it’s dark yellow or amber.

To help reverse dehydration, water is the preferred choice. You want to avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, since both act as diuretics. A sports drink may help for mild dehydration, although severe dehydration requires immediate medical attention.

Too hot to handle

Heat stroke typically strikes after prolonged exposure to high temperatures and usually in combination with dehydration. It often follows milder heat-related illnesses, such as heat cramps or heat exhaustion. Symptoms include elevated body temperature (103 F or higher), red and hot skin, headache, fast pulse, nausea, dizziness, confusion and loss of consciousness.

Is someone is experiencing these symptoms, it’s a serious issue. Call 9-1-1 immediately.

While waiting for the ambulance, move the person to a cool spot and try to lower their body temperature. For example:

  • Put the person in a cool shower or spray them with a garden hose.
  • Place ice packs or cool wet towels on the person’s neck, armpits and groin.
  • Let the person sip cool water or a nonalcoholic, caffeine-free beverage.

Rash decisions

The South Coast is rich with hiking trails — although a brush with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac can send you off track. The rash from the menacing flora is caused by an oil in the plants, and an itchy, blistering rash often begins 12 to 72 hours after coming in contact with the oil. The good news is that the rash is not contagious, but coming into contact with any oil left on the skin or clothing can cause new rashes.

The AAD offers these tips to relieve the discomfort:

  • Resist the urge to scratch, since scratching can lead to infection.
  • If possible, immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water after touching any poisonous plant.
  • Thoroughly wash all of the clothes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poisonous plant.
  • Let blisters be. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin helps protect the raw wound from infection.
  • Try short, lukewarm baths in an oatmeal preparation (available at most drugstores), a bath with one cup of baking soda, or short, cool showers.
  • Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream, applied to the itchy rash, may help.
  • Cool compresses may relieve discomfort.
  • An antihistamine pill may help — but avoid applying a topical antihistamine to the rash, as this can make the situation worse.


You wait for it all summer: July 4th! Picnics, family time, barbecues, and the explosive display of celestial colors, shapes and sounds. However, those awe-inspiring fireworks can be dangerous when not properly handled. To help prevent injuries, follow these suggestions from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Never allow young children to ignite fireworks, and even older children need adult supervision.
  • Steer clear of fireworks packaged in plain brown paper. This is often a sign that the fireworks are intended for professional displays managed by someone who understands the safe storage, handling, and functioning of pyrotechnics and pyrotechnic devices.
  • Even sparklers require adult supervision, since these babies burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse and immediately back up to a safe distance after lighting fireworks.
  • Keep a bucket of water or garden hose handy in case of fire.
  • After a firecracker stops burning, or if it never ignited to begin with, douse the firecracker with water before disposing. This will help prevent a trash fire.

Dr. J. Tessa Draper is a Southcoast family medicine physician in Fall River. You can book an appointment online or by calling 508-973-9600.