5 Long-Weekend Health Hazards

PHOTO: Here are some Memorial Day weekend health hazard tips.
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For many people Memorial Day weekend means finally getting to kick off summer by striking up the barbecue, taking a dip in the ocean or simply basking in the sunshine during a long weekend.

But celebrating the unofficial start of summer also means encountering a few hazards of the season. From sunburns to bug bites or even an ill-cooked hotdog, the summer months have a few perils to contend with. To help you avoid these pitfalls, we've put together a list of five health hazards for the summer months and how to avoid them.

Sunburns

After a long winter hibernation, it can be tempting to soak up as much sun as possible during a day at the beach or a picnic in the park, but experts warn that even a single sunburn can do lasting damage to the skin.

To enjoy the sun safely, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against UVA and UVB rays, which has an SPF of 30 or higher.

Additionally, experts advise seeking shade from 10a.m. to 2p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest.

Unfortunately water and sand can amplify the sun's rays, so be extra-careful during trips to the beach. And be sure to reapply sun block every two hours or after taking a dip in the ocean.

If you do get a sunburn, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends taking a cool bath, popping a few aspirin or ibuprofen to help lessen the swelling and redness, and drinking lots of water since a sunburn draws fluid from the body.

Insects that Sting and Bite

One consequence of enjoying the great outdoors is being assailed by various stinging and biting insects that only a beekeeper outfit could keep at bay.

While many of these insects are merely a nuisance, for people who are allergic, they pose a clear and even deadly threat to their health. The American College of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology estimates that 2 million Americans are allergic to insect stings. That includes people who are at risk of having a potentially fatal reaction to the venom of certain insects.

More than 500,000 Americans end up in the hospital every year due to insect stings and bites, and they cause at least 50 known deaths a year.

Richard Pollack, a public health entomologist and instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health, says it's imperative for those who are allergic to insect stings to carry around an epi-pen, which can be used to easily inject epinephrine to help ease a severe allergic reaction.

"It does you no good to have it in your medicine cabinet if you're out and about [and get stung]," said Pollack.

In addition to life-threatening reactions from bee or wasp stings, warmer weather also means ticks will be actively looking for a host to feed off. Ticks can carry multiple diseases, including Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In extremely rare cases their saliva can even lead to temporarily paralysis.

"If you're going to enjoy the outdoors, even just a backyard barbecue, you run some risk of acquiring a tick," said Pollack. "At the end of the day, do a tick check on yourself, children and even your pets."

In cases of paralysis caused by tick saliva, once the tick is removed the paralysis will quickly dissipate.

To keep insects at bay during the spring and summer months, Pollack recommends using an insect repellent when outdoors and putting screens over your windows to keep out pests such as mosquitoes.

Food Poisoning

While enjoying a picnic or barbecue is one of the great traditions of Memorial Day weekend, getting ill from spoiled potato salad or a rotten deviled egg is one of the worst.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 48 million Americans become sick with food poisoning every year. Reactions to spoiled food can result in nausea, vomiting, fever or diarrhea.

To avoid any dietary mishaps this holiday, the CDC recommends that foods prone to spoiling not be kept unrefrigerated for more than two hours, one hour in extremely hot weather, and that meat is cooked to the proper temperature.

The United States Department of Agriculture even has a website dedicated to grilling safely, which explains the correct temperature for all your favorite summer meals.

Hot dogs, for example, need to be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until steaming hot.

In addition to hot dogs, the CDC recommends that whole meats be cooked to a temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit; ground meats cooked to 160; and poultry, 165.

Poison Ivy

A hiking trip can be a great way to celebrate the long holiday weekend, but one brush with poison ivy and a fun holiday excursion can turn excruciating.

While many people know to avoid poison ivy's infamous "leaves of three," the American Academy of Family Physicians says if people accidently swipe the plant they can quickly wash the skin with soap and water to help minimize effects. The oily sap of the plant contains urushiol, which bonds to the skin after a few minutes of contact and over the next few days will result in an itchy-blistered rash.

If you end up one of the unfortunate ones who didn't spot the plant in time, you can use one of the recommended over-the-counter medications such as a hydrocortisone cream, Calamine lotion, an antihistamine or an oatmeal bath to ease the symptoms.

Pollen Allergies

For those with pollen allergies, spending Memorial Day outdoors can mean suffering through a host of unpleasant allergy symptoms from sneezing to itchy watery eyes.

In some states the summer grass season is already gearing up before the spring tree pollen season has fully ended. Anyone allergic to both kinds of pollen should consider staying inside for the long weekend.

However, Dr. Andy Nish, a Georgia-based allergist and fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, says people should try to avoid being out in the mornings if they have particularly bad reactions to grass pollen since the pollen count is usually highest during the early hours. Additionally, anyone who has allergies and is attending a barbecue may want to stay away from the grill.

"We know that other things [like smoke] can prime the nose and make it more sensitive to allergies," said Nish. "It can make [people] have a double whammy."

In addition to taking nasal steroids or over-the-counter medications, there are other steps allergy sufferers can take to lessen their symptoms. Nish recommends that people who are allergic to pollen change their clothes and take a shower when they get home so that the pollen isn't tracked indoors.

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