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Your Summer Survival Guide

Angry wasps, poison ivy, rip currents! Here's how to manage the threats to your annual fun in the sun

En español | We all look forward to summer: sultry afternoons in the backyard, long weekends in the woods, vacations at the beach.

But summer can also be fraught with dangers that do more than ruin your day. As we get older, we're more susceptible to heatstroke, not to mention the sprains and strains that come with increased activity.

The best way to enjoy summer activities with friends, kids and grandkids? Be prepared.

In Your Backyard image


Danger: Angry wasps

Action plan: Wasps are aggressive, so hightail it out of there if you disturb a nest. If a wasp gets you, remove the stinger with a fingernail or tweezers and apply a topical antihistamine.

Bee flower closeup, Summer Survival Guide, Bee Sting

Michael Durham/Corbis

Don't let bees ruin your summer fun!

Danger: Buzzing bees

Action plan: Swarming bees are not usually after you; they're protecting the queen. But if a swarm does attack, cover your nose and mouth, then call 911. Stings can be deadly.

Danger: Bloodthirsty mosquitoes

Action plan: Repellents with DEET work best. Want to go chemical-free? Keep the bloodsuckers at bay with citronella or a fan — or try soybean oil on your skin.

Danger: Food poisoning

Action plan: Try sucking on ice chips or taking sips of an electrolyte-enriched drink. Dehydration is a real danger as you age, particularly if you are on certain medications, so if the nausea and diarrhea last for more than two days, get to a doctor.

Danger: A fall from a ladder

Action plan: First, look up. If there's no risk of an errant branch crashing down, stay still and wait. First responders should act quickly but carefully. "If there's any obvious bleeding, apply direct pressure to the bleeding site and keep the pressure on," says Stephen Cantrill, an ER doc at Denver Health. And next time, think about enlisting your adult children for help. In a study published in the Journal of Surgical Research, people older than 66 were 3.4 times as likely as younger people to suffer head injuries after falling from a ladder.

Danger: A medical emergency at your backyard barbecue

Action plan: If you're unsure about what's happening, don't hesitate to call 911. "Often, people don't want to inconvenience the rescue squad," Cantrill says. If you're a frequent host or have a pool, consider taking a CPR course at your local hospital or Red Cross chapter.

Man with portable fan in the sun, Summer Survival Guide, Heat Exhaustion

Getty Images

Feeling light-headed? You may be getting heat stroke.

Danger: A splinter in your thumb

Action plan: First, cut a square from a banana peel and put it white-side down on the splinter. Then cover it with a bandage. The enzymes in the peel will draw out the splinter.

No banana? Spread Elmer's glue on the splinter, let it dry and peel it off.

Danger: Heat exhaustion

Action plan: Your internal cooling system doesn't work as well as you age, so if you're feeling dizzy or light-headed and your skin is clammy, those are sure signs you're becoming overheated. Immediately find shade and elevate your feet, then rehydrate with cool water. (Avoid ice water, which is not as easily absorbed.) Pouring cool water on your wrists and feet can also help lower your body temp more quickly.

At the Beach image


Danger: Scorching-hot sand

Action plan: Older feet are less sensitive to heat, so you may not realize how hot the sand is until it has already done its damage — and hot sand can give you second- or third-degree burns. The risk is even greater if you're diabetic and have numbness in your feet. To avoid burns — not to mention cuts — wear surf shoes or sandals, says David Greenhalgh, M.D., chief of burn surgery at Shriners Hospitals for Children–Northern California.

Danger: Sand in your eye

Action plan: Rinse your eye with saline solution if you have it, plain water if you don't, says Jerry Sebag, an ophthalmologist in Huntington Beach, Calif. Rinse for three minutes, then apply eyedrops. Close your eyes and cover them with a cool compress for 10 minutes to reduce inflammation. Warning: Don't rub — doing so could scratch your cornea, a painful condition indeed.

Hands and bubbles under water, Summer Survival Guide, Drowning

Getty Images

Help protect your grandkids from drowning by keeping a close eye on them at the beach.

Danger: Kid trouble — in the water

Action plan: Always keep an eye on your grands and their friends when they're in the water; drowning kids often don't thrash around or shout. Instead, they will press their arms down to keep their mouths above water. A child who goes under but seems OK afterward should be checked out anyway and watched the rest of the day; water in the lungs can linger long after the incident — and can drown the person even hours after the scary episode.

Danger: Jaws!

Action plan: Read the news and you may think sharks are climbing onto the beach and dragging people into the surf. Truth is, attacks are rare — an average of 45 a year in the U.S. To reduce your odds, swim in groups, avoid murky water, and stay on your beach towel after twilight. If you are attacked, punch the shark in his tender spots — his nose and gills.

Danger: Seasickness

Action plan: When a queasy tummy strikes, lie down, be still, and stare at the horizon line. An empty stomach can make you feel sicker, so sipping water and eating some saltines — an old sailor's trick — can help, says Thomas Stoffregen, professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota. If you have inner-ear or balance issues, you may want to avoid fishing trips.

Danger: A wayward grandchild

Action plan: Don't waste precious minutes looking. Instead, go straight to the lifeguard on duty and give a description that can be relayed to other lifeguards. "If you last saw the child digging in the sand with his pail, he's probably still on the beach somewhere," says B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association, who in 22 years as a lifeguard does not recall a case of drowning when the child was last seen on the beach. Still, always designate one adult in your party to be a "water watcher." Brewster advises telling children that "lifeguards are like police officers. If you need something, if you get lost, they will help you."

Jellyfish warning sign, Summer Survival Guide, Jellyfish Beach

Getty Images

Vinegar may help treat a jellyfish sting.

Danger: Stinging jellyfish

Action plan: If tentacles are sticking to the skin, rinse with salt water and scrape off barbs with a Popsicle stick or credit card. Depending on the type of jellyfish, vinegar can stop the stingers from continuing to fire, says Joseph Burnett, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Don't believe the old wives' tale that urine can relieve the pain of a jellyfish sting. It won't help.

Danger: A roaring rip current

Action plan: Rip currents do not pull you under the water or take you across the ocean. "They're just taking you for a ride," says Robert Brander, a coastal geomorphologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Try not to panic. (Easier said than done, we know.) The rip may not pull you under, but if you use your energy thrashing about, you could end up in trouble. Instead, signal for help by waving one arm. To escape, swim parallel to the shore until the current releases its grip. If you're not a strong swimmer or have health concerns, scan the ocean first: Rip currents look like dark paths of calm water. Avoid them.

On Your Camping Trip image


Danger: Chest pains while hiking

Action plan: Most likely it's a muscle strain or heartburn, but don't take chances. Stop moving and sit down in the shade. If the pain subsides after a bit, you can get up — but start making your way back to the car, not deeper into the woods. If the pain returns, call 911 and let emergency personnel come to you. No cell reception? If there's more than one person with you, send someone to find help.

Danger: A thunderstorm

Action plan: Count the seconds between a lightning flash and a thunderclap. If it's under 30, you run the risk of being one of the 300 people a year struck by lightning or one of the 70 or so killed by it, according to the National Weather Service. When black clouds approach, avoid open fields, isolated trees, picnic shelters, metal bleachers and water. If you can't find a large shelter but you can make it back to your car, that would work — just keep your hands off any metal, such as the door handle, until the storm passes, advises Richard Kithil, president of the National Lightning Safety Institute.

Car drives flooded road, Thunderstorm, Summer Survival Guide

Marnie Burkhart/Corbis

Don't try driving through a flooded road.

Danger: Driving in heavy rain

Action plan: If the rain is making it difficult to see, pull over and wait out the storm, ideally in a place away from trees that could fall onto the car or guardrails that conduct electricity, says Julie Lee, former director of the AARP Driver Safety program. Flash floods are the No. 1 cause of thunderstorm-related deaths — and 50 to 60 percent of flood deaths happen in cars swept away by moving water — so don't drive over a flooded road. "Just two feet of water can sweep a car away," Lee says. If you are trapped in rising water, get out of the vehicle through a door or window and get to higher ground.

Danger: Ticks

Action plan: Ticks can transmit diseases and are notoriously hard to avoid, but tucking long pants into your socks and wearing long-sleeved shirts are a good first defense. Plus, consider planting American beautyberry. Crush the leaves and rub them on your skin to release chemicals that repel ticks and also mosquitoes, advise scientists at the U.S. Agricultural Research Service. If you do find a tick, use tweezers to grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pull up with steady, even pressure, making sure you get the whole bug. Clean the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. If the area shows a target-shaped rash afterward, see your doctor — it could be a sign of Lyme disease.

Danger: A hungry gator

Action plan: Floridians often advise tourists to run in a zigzag pattern if chased by a gator, but John Brueggen, general manager of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, says that's not necessary if you're smart. "The biggest mistake you can make is waiting at the water's edge," Brueggen says. "He's going to lunge out, and he's either got you or he doesn't." Twilight is especially dangerous, because that's when gators see us better than we see them. If you're attacked in the water, aim an elbow at the fleshy area around the animal's throat or eyes — and scream for help.

Danger: An exploding campfire

Action plan: Building a campfire is one of the primal joys of the outdoors, but avoid circling the flames with rocks from the shoreline, says Cliff Jacobson, a wilderness consultant in River Falls, Wis. Sandstone and other porous rocks absorb more water, which forms steam when heated, causing the stones to explode like grenades. Instead, ring your fire with dry-area rocks, or don't use them at all — they won't make your fire any safer.

Danger: Poison (ivy) gas from your bonfire

Action plan: You know not to touch "leaves of three," but it's even more important to keep poison ivy and its cousins, poison oak and sumac, off your log pile. For people who are allergic to the urushiol oil in poison ivy — or those with breathing issues such as asthma or COPD — the smoke can be especially dangerous, since a rash can break out on the lungs' lining, causing extreme pain and respiratory problems.

Hiker passes a coiled snake, Summer Survival Guide, Snake Bite Hike Venom

National Geographic Creative/Getty Images

If you see a snake while you're hiking on a trail, slowly move away from it.

Danger: A snake on the trail

Action plan: Only 1 in 6 species are poisonous, and they want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. Simply watch where you're going and slowly move out of striking distance. If you are bitten — even if you think the snake isn't poisonous — call 911 immediately. Do not apply ice, heat or a tourniquet, and don't suck out the venom. These traditional remedies cause more harm. Do remove any rings or restrictive clothing, and wash the bite while you wait for help.

Danger: A tipped canoe with grandkids aboard

Action plan: If you and the grands are wearing life jackets — you should insist on this — grab the boat's line and swim to shore, says Jacobson, the wilderness consultant. If that's impossible and the shoreline is visible, leave the boat and swim to shore, with the younger ones always in front of you. If you capsize in water with a current, don't stand up; the force of the water could mow you down.

Danger: Blisters on your feet

Action plan: Try to avoid popping a blister, because the fluid-filled sac serves as a germ shield. To dull the pain and speed healing, soak the area in cool green tea, brewed strong. Down a glass while you're at it; green tea is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Show Off Your Summer Skills image


And then there are certain summer-themed activities you should simply master for the safety of yourself and others around you. This summer, learn how to...

Put on a backyard "fireworks" show ... without getting burned!

We love a Roman candle as much as anyone, but considering that pyrotechnics sent more than 11,000 people to the ER in 2013, you're better off sticking with sparklers (and use them with caution). An even safer option: Make your own "fireworks" with a 2-liter bottle of soda and a sleeve of Mentos. Simply unwrap the sleeve, drop the candies into the bottle, and watch the soda geyser erupt.

Man cannonball splash swimming pool. Summer Survival Guide, pain-free

FHR/Agefotostock

You too can make a splash-worthy cannonball.

Painlessly nail a splashy cannonball

The key to a great cannonball is commitment, says Summer Sanders, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist, who clearly stayed after swim practice to develop the perfect party splash: "If you don't fully commit to the ball, there could be pain and there will, most certainly, be less splash." Launch from the deep end and aim for the middle of the pool, tucking your legs and knees in toward your chest. Once you hit the water, unfold and surface to witness the result.

Play beach volleyball without twisting an ankle

Sand is a forgiving game surface that offers hips, knees and shoulders more protection than grass or an indoor court. Ankle sprains are common, though, due to all the spiking and sideways jumping. Jonathan Reeser, M.D., a rehab specialist in Marshfield, Wis., and author of the Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science: Volleyball, says people often get injured in volleyball when they fall on top of each other. The best way to protect your joints? Run after the ball, then jump straight up when you spike or block.

Fire up a gas grill, and keep your eyebrows

Gas grills have gotten larger and more powerful, which is great if you're planning a big backyard barbecue. But with all that power comes the potential for flare-ups. If you're cooking and notice the flames getting out of control, close the lid to starve the fire of oxygen. To avoid a fire in the first place, turn on your grill — and turn it off — in the proper order: With the lid up, open the propane tank first, then turn on the burner knobs and hit the ignition. When you're done, turn off the propane tank, then the burner knobs, says the National Fire Protection Association's Guy Colonna.

Find your way out of the woods ... without a compass

Do a bit of recon before you hit the trail, making note of its creek crossings and sharp turns in case you need to backtrack, says Rebecca Jensen, a navigation instructor at Northwest Trail Runs in Seattle. Or use the sun and a watch to find your way. First, align the hour hand with the sun. (Or put a twig in the dirt and align the hour hand with its shadow.) Bisect the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o'clock mark. That will be due south; due north is opposite. If you've been wandering awhile and still have no idea where you are, stay put. It will be easier to find you.

 

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