Take precautions to keep summer fun

07/08/2010 12:00 AM |

Summer is certainly a time for kids. As maturity comes, though, we start to worry about precautions: covering up to avoid sunburn, applying insect repellent, and dealing with common allergies. In fact, when outdoors persons get to “a certain age,” we wonder how we managed to survive the health challenges summer (and spring and fall) threw at us all those years!

Whenever I talk to my Riverhead dermatologist, Mitchell Meyerson, we always have a rousing discussion about exposure to sunlight. For many years, as a high school and college student, I made my summer money working as a country club lifeguard and swim coach. Before that I put away summer cash as a caddy, too. And, as if that wasn’t enough solar exposure, our family often made winter or spring trips to Florida where I’d fish for days on end.

Fortunately, I took the advice of some wiser heads and learned the not-so-subtle art of covering up, especially during the critical 10 a.m.-to-4 p.m. period. Even 50 years back, without any skin protection (except for Coppertone, which certainly didn’t do much), senior guards and native guides knew enough to don white, long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats and to hide under big umbrellas or “Bimini” boat canopies. In middle years, I learned to use sunscreens with increasing sun protection factors (SPFs), but damage had already been done. So, I pay the price today when regular dermatological checks reveal precancerous growths or discolored areas that demand immediate attention.

Almost all our outdoor buddies suffer from one allergy or another. “Hay fever” comes in many forms. If it isn’t late summer ragweed, it’s the grass or pollen of May through July. We’ve known anglers who simply couldn’t fish summer streams in the Midwest, dog trainers who carried enough medication to stock a pharmacy, and even some dogs that cannot be run in the field before fall without suffering from respiratory distress and skin rash.

After a couple of particularly scary reactions to spring pollen (which had never affected me previously) a decade ago, I tried a couple of over-the-counter allergy tabs without much success. Then a Pennsylvania dog trainer suggested a prescription drug, Allegra, and it seemed to do the job. Like many sufferers, I had to learn the trick of splitting tabs in half to avoid common side effects.

Another allergy that plagues most of us is the oil that comes off the leaves and vines of the “big three”: poison ivy, oak or sumac. Years back bad cases of ivy “burn” would send outdoors folks to physicians for cortisone shots, to pharmacies for boric acid or calamine-based lotions, even to hospitals! Fortunately, Tec Laboratories in Oregon, the poison oak capital of North America, developed a series of terrific products more than 30 years ago. The Tecnu cleansers, now available in spray form, dissolve the potent oil so that it can be flushed from skin. Once the oil is gone, the awful itch goes away. Some of the soaps and other products on today’s drugstore shelves claim to do the same job.

Biting insects have to be singled out for special treatment. Whether we’re fighting off mosquitoes on the marshes, flies in the woods or on the beaches, or deer ticks in the uplands, these critters have a way of making life miserable — or worse.

While Adirondackers joke about their fast-flying black flies (15 miles per hour!) and mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds, the ticks of Long Island are no laughing matter. In fact, our Ixodes ticks are more of a scourge than a nuisance simply because the majority of tick bites can lead to horrible complications, as anyone on the East End who has suffered from Lyme, ehrlichiosis, and/or babesiosis knows full well.

However, many years back, while guiding at Mashomack, we learned some tricks about Lyme prevention from veterans in the field. As tough as ticks are to dislodge when embedded and as difficult as they are to crush, they can be repelled from clothing and skin by simple means. First put a strong DEET-based repellent like Ben’s on bare calves, forearms, neck and cheeks. Then spray a lighter repellent, less than 40 percent DEET, or even a pyrethrin- or picardin-based repellent, on critical parts of garments: socks, trouser legs, and long sleeves. Wearing shirts or pants impregnated with repellents is even better.

Incidentally, this heavy-duty treatment also works for mosquitoes and biting flies. Because our Brittanys are so prone to contracting tick-borne diseases, we spray their legs, necks, and bellies with light repellent after they’re finished working a day in the field (to spray beforehand might compromise their noses) in addition to administering annual Lyme-Vax vaccinations and monthly dermal injections of Front-Line.

The months ahead should be special for the “kid” in all of us; don’t let them be spoiled by “The ‘Oys’ of Summer.”