Ah, summertime! The season of sun-soaked days, backyard barbecues, and adventurous hiking trails. But amidst the joy of longer days and warm nights lurks an array of pesky insects, deceptively dangerous plants, and the relentless heat. Just as you'd pack a picnic for a beach day, preparing for these summer hazards is an essential part of enjoying the season. Read on as we delve into tips to help you stay safe while making the most of your summer—from outsmarting insects to beating the heat.
There's a plethora of flying, stinging, biting creatures just waiting for us outside. While most of these potential pests are more afraid of us than we are of them, a few stand out as being worth mentioning. After all, some of the biggest problems come in the smallest packages. From mosquitoes and horseflies to bees and ticks, here are a few summer safety tips I use to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors.
Mosquito and horsefly bites can be painful and annoying, but they could also carry unseen dangers. Covering up and preventing these fliers from getting to our skin remains a very effective countermeasure, though it isn’t always practical in the summer heat. Ground coverings, like picnic blankets and patios, are a great start, while citronella candles and bug screenings dial up the safety level. While exploring the wilderness, bug repellants designed for the environment you’re enjoying can help ensure you don’t bring home any unwanted hitchhikers.
When wandering through the woods, ticks pose the biggest insect threat. Here in southeast Pennsylvania, Lyme's disease has been a threat longer than the area’s been settled. All the same tips for preventing mosquitoes and flies apply to ticks, but the tenacious nature of ticks means we should add an extra step to our defenses: tick checks. Easy to incorporate into existing hygiene practices, a tick check is essentially a full body check with particular focus on bumps, red marks, or insensitive spots. For more information on ticks and tick countermeasures, check out our county’s official resources here.
Bees, like ticks, are flying, stinging, biting creatures that warrant their own mention. Unlike ticks, mosquitoes, or even horseflies, when bees attack, it can quickly escalate for us humans. Unlike the other pests I’ve mentioned, bees also provide a direct and easily notable benefit for us all. The good news is that we’ve learned a lot about these colorful pollinators. Most of the safety tips come down to “don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you,” though exceptions to this rule do exist. To delve deeper into the bees most common in Pennsylvania, check out this article from Penn State University.
Often more dangerous in the garden than on the hiking trail, poison ivy, oak, and sumac present their own hazards to outdoor enjoyment. These leafy vines often blend in with more desirable decorative plants, making them easy to overlook while cleaning out a garden bed or clearing a brush pile. And it’s not as though leaving the vines to grow freely is beneficial for our gardens either—a poison ivy plant can overtake a garden, choking out all desirable plants.
Encounters with poisonous plants can be hard to avoid, but there are plenty of preventative steps that can make the process less itchy. As with bug bite prevention, watch out for exposed skin. I prefer wearing a water-wicking base layer and something flowy over that. So even if toxins do seep into the surface layer of my clothes, they have to penetrate two barriers before reaching my skin. If you find yourself needing to clear out a bunch, I recommend using rubber garden gloves, safety goggles, and an outdoor cold-water cleanup system. Then, when coming in from the chore, toss those clothes into the hottest wash cycle they can withstand, apply Tecnu as directed, then step into a cold shower, and aloe up. Over the years, the best product I’ve found for dealing with poison ivy is Tecnu. It’s scientifically designed to pick up the dirt and oils of our skin, and is available at any pharmacy or supermarket near you.
The environment itself shouldn’t be overlooked in a summertime safety discussion. After all, you don’t have to be outside to overheat or dehydrate. One of the baseline defenses against the summer sun is diligent use of sunscreen. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Remember to apply it 30 minutes before heading outdoors, and reapply every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating. Staying in shaded areas or using air conditioning can help reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses. Adjusting your schedule to avoid strenuous outdoor activities during midday when the sun is at its peak can also be beneficial.
Hydration is crucial, but it's not just about drinking as much water as you can. Instead, aim for consistent, moderate intake of water throughout the day, and supplement your hydration with electrolyte-rich drinks if you're breaking a sweat. Consider the strategy of professional athletes—they often rely on a mix of water and sports drinks to maintain proper hydration and electrolyte balance on those hot days.
This summer has already seen more than its share of record-breaking hot days, exacerbating the risks of heat-related illnesses. Moreover, a new environmental hazard looms on the horizon, further complicating the situation.
This summer, clouds of smoke drift from horizon to horizon, lending a dusty hue to the afternoon heat and making it harder for everyone to breathe. The eastern half of the US, which includes us here in Chester County, has experienced heightened air quality alerts for weeks with no end in sight. Here’s a clip from The Weather Channel that explains why this smoke presents a different kind of hazard than we’re accustomed to.
However you're enjoying the great outdoors this summer, safety should be paramount! A little knowledge and preparation can go a long way towards enhancing your summer experience. These are just a few tips for some of the more common hazards brought by the summer. Always heed posted warnings and regulations when exploring the great outdoors, and bring plenty of food and water.
How do you like to enjoy our area during the summertime? Do you have any effective tips for handling the summer heat, haze, and other hazards? I invite you to reach out and share your best summer safety tip!
As always, thank you so much for reading to the end. I hope you learned something new, or at least found a reminder of your usual safety protocol for this unique summer. Stay safe and cool out there—and please share this article with anyone who might find it helpful. I’m always eager to meet more members of our amazing community.