Summer Snafus:  Treating Sunburns and Stings

We are now in prime time for outdoor activities, and while being outdoors is healthful in so many ways, it is not without its hazards: Insect bites and sunburns become common problems in the summer.

Most bee, wasp and hornet stings can be treated at home, and don’t require a doctor visit. If the person who has been stung is known to be allergic or shows signs of an allergic reaction, such as difficulty in breathing or a swollen tongue, it’s important to get to an emergency room quickly; these reactions, though relatively rare, can be life threatening.

To treat a sting at home, quickly remove the stinger with a pair of tweezers or scrape it off with a fingernail or credit card. Wash the bite area with warm water and soap. A cold compress will take care of the pain of most stings. You can also apply an antihistamine gel, hydrocortisone cream or that old standby, calamine lotion, to ease pain, swelling and itching. Insect bites tend to resolve over two to three days. If pain or redness lasts longer, or if redness spreads, consult a doctor.

Thanks to successful public awareness campaigns, most people understand that too much sun exposure not only leads to sunburn, it can also cause skin cancer. We don’t see many serious sunburns anymore, but it bears repeating that the sun is dangerous.

Burns can blister, get infected, and cause serious illness requiring hospitalization.

Prevention is truly the best medicine. Whenever you’ll be out in the sun for more than a few minutes, generously apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater, and reapply very two hours, or immediately after swimming. Try to avoid being outdoors during the sun’s strongest hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you are out then, wear loose-fitting long-sleeve shirts and pants, and cover your head and face with a wide-brim hat.

For mild sunburns, apply cool compresses, stay in a cool, dry area and use over-the-counter analgesics such as ibuprofen, antihistamines or aloe vera gel for temporary pain relief. It is also important to stay hydrated. Sunburn is an injury, and the skin needs to be well hydrated to heal. If a burn starts to blister, appears infected or has not resolved in several days, see your doctor.