School is out and gray skies will soon make room for some much anticipated sun. With so many gatherings, vacations, and outdoor activities during the season, it pays to keep some health points in mind to maximize your fun in the sun.
Be sun safe
It may be cloudy in the Pacific Northwest for most of the year, but Washington actually has higher rates of melanoma than Texas, according to the CDC. Good sun protection is key to lowering your risk of skin cancer. Choose a sunscreen that is zinc oxide or titanium dioxide-based and covers both UVB and UVA rays. Use at least a shot-glass sized amount of sunscreen on the whole body and apply every 2-3 hours. Reapply more often if you are perspiring or in water. Sunscreens with an SPF greater than 50 do not offer much more protection and can mislead people into thinking they do not need to reapply as often.
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Though popular, getting a “base tan” at a tanning salon before going on a sunny vacation is not recommended. It is not protective as it seems. It provides the equivalent of an SPF 4 sunscreen, and any tan is a sign of damage from UV radiation (even if you do not burn). Stay in shady areas when able and use sun-protective clothing and hats.
Nothing smells like summer than food cooking on a barbecue grill. But hot weather makes it more likely for bacteria to multiply, causing a rise in incidences of foodborne illnesses (“food poisoning”) this time of year. Minimize risk by using a separate designated work surface or cutting board for meat and another for vegetables. And don’t rely on your eyes to check for doneness of meat. One out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown before it reaches a safe internal temperature. Ground beef hamburgers should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. A meat thermometer helps ensure this. Additionally, allow meat to “rest” for 3 minutes after taking it off the grill so that the temperature evens out. The USDA has a handy brochure on grilling safety including safe temperatures for other meats at IsItDoneYet.gov.
Plan for trips
If you’re jetting off on a vacation, prep before you leave. Make sure you have enough prescribed medications to last the duration plus a few extra just in case you have a change in plans. Keep a list of medications in your wallet. Most important, make sure your vaccines are updated. There are ongoing whooping cough outbreaks in many states and an alarming rise of measles due to under-immunization and travel. Check CDC.gov for any travel vaccines you may need for your destination.
Here’s to a summer with travel, food, time with friends and family. With a little care it can be a healthy and safe one filled with great memories.
Linda Pourmassina, M.D., is an internal-medicine physician who practices at The Polyclinic in Seattle. She has a blog at pulsus.wordpress.com and can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@LindaP_MD).