The Risks of Summer Fun

Enjoying the great outdoors is not without its obstacles. Take precautions for you and your family to stay safe and healthy.

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The long days of summer typically bring extended time outdoors – enjoying a hike, camping or backyard gardening. But communing with Mother Nature can have its costs. Bug bites and skin rashes can range from a minor irritation to a need for medical intervention.

Dodging a bee or a wasp is a seasonal dance that’s humorous to watch, but it’s not so funny if you get stung. While a honey bee can only sting once because it leaves its stinger behind, wasps can sting repeatedly. After coming into contact with these insects, it is important to be able to recognize whether you or someone you are with is experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

bee-shutterstock_156078011“Bug bites and stings, although painful, are typically not severe. But they can be,” says Dr. S. Christopher Shadid, a family medicine physician with INTEGRIS Health in Oklahoma City. “Some people have severe allergic reactions to these. Concerning signs and symptoms may be: rash, shortness of breath, cough, a feeling of your throat closing up. If you have any of these, seek medical attention immediately. People who know they have these typical reactions should carry a medicine with them called an EpiPen. This can be injected after the initial bite or sting prior to emergent medical treatment.”

Commonly referred to as an insect, ticks are actually parasitic arachnids – meaning they feed off the blood of a host. And if that’s not enough to make your skin crawl, tick bites can be hazardous to your health as certain infected species carry diseases to humans, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

While Dr. Shadid notes that Lyme disease can be a very severe illness, he most often treats patients for Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

“There has not been a documented case of Lyme disease in the state of Oklahoma in many years. This is only seen in the New England states of the United States,” Dr. Shadid says. “For us here in Oklahoma, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the bigger tick-born concern. I diagnose this at least a few times every year. This presents typically with fever, rash and generally not feeling well. Lucky for us, both of these illnesses are treated the same.”

Dr. Shadid shares that doxycycline is the most commonly used antibiotic for treatment, but it is not suitable for children under the age of eight. For younger children, there are other antibiotics that can be prescribed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tick species (if infected) that can potentially transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever include the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick and the brown dog tick. Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through infected blacklegged ticks.

“It is very important to seek medical advice if having issues after being bitten by a tick,” adds Dr. Shadid. “Both Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease can have long-term sequelae if not treated appropriately.”

tick-shutterstock_119725873Most everyone has heard the old adage “leaves of three, let it be” in reference to poison ivy and poison oak. These poisonous plants are most commonly identified by having three leaves and can be found as a small shrub or a climbing vine. Poison ivy leaves are pointed and will be different colors based upon the season – red in the spring, green in the summer and then yellow, orange or red in the fall. Poison oak leaves are recognized for being shaped like an oak tree leaf. Both plants release an oil called urushiol, which upon contact can cause red, swollen skin, blisters and severe itching to those who are allergic.

“Poison ivy and poison oak can be very difficult to treat,” Dr. Shadid says. “Often you can get by with over-the-counter steroid creams such as hydrocortisone, but typically these reactions can be so severe that you need oral steroids. In fact, just a general short course of oral steroids usually doesn’t do the trick either. The appropriate way to treat these reactions is with a longer course – two weeks of a tapered steroid. If this is not done appropriately, the reaction will classically come back with a vengeance.”

After being exposed to poison oak or poison ivy, be sure to wash with warm, soapy water to help reduce the risk of spreading the oil. The oil can also stick to garden tools, pets and clothing, so it’s important to take precautions to help prevent recurrence. Wearing long sleeves and pants as well as gloves can help you avoid contact with these plants when you are in areas where they may be prevalent. It’s also important to note that you should not burn poison oak or poison ivy. Inhaling the smoke from burning poison oak or poison ivy can cause severe allergic respiratory problems.

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