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story.lead_photo.caption Jennifer Wolken

Summer is officially in full swing, providing the perfectopportunity for adults and children of all ages to get outside and be active in the sunshine.

Studies have shown that spending time outdoors has many benefits, not only for your physical health, but also your mental health. However, it also brings up many concerns, which need to be kept in mind, to ensure that you and your loved ones stay safe.

As you begin to participate in all of the fun activities that summer brings, we need to keep in mind the many hours spent out in the hot sun where ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. One way that you can help to reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer is to seek shade as much as possible; this could be from an umbrella, tree or other form of shelter. Although, even when you are in the shade you should still continue to protect your skin with sunscreen or wear protective clothing. Protective clothing includes long-sleeved shirts, long pants/skirts, hats and sunglasses.

Sunscreen should be a broad spectrum with SPF of 15 or higher and should be applied before going outdoors. It should also be applied after two hours in the sun and after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Most sunscreens also have an expiration date. If they do not have an expiration date listed, they generally have a shelf life of no more than three years, with shelf life being shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.

Another important thing to keep in mind while enjoying the summer sunshine is ticks and mosquitoes, which are both more active during the warmer months. Ticks are generally found in grassy, brushy or wooded areas and many people have ticks in their own yards. Mosquitoes are most often found near standing water including lakes and rivers.

If you will be in an area where ticks and mosquitoes are prevalent, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants that are treated with permethrin.

You should look for EPA (environmental protection agency) registered insect repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD) or 2-undecanone. Always follow product instructions and do not use products containing OLE or PMD on children under 3 years old.

After coming indoors, be sure to check yourself and your gear for ticks and showering within two hours, as this timeframe has been shown to reduce your risk of tick-borne illnesses.

One last summer safety topic to address is water safety. Swimming is a fun activity that the entire family can enjoy, but drowning is also the leading cause of injury death for young children, therefore water safety is a must. Be vigilant about the depth of the pool or body of water and if your child cannot stand straight up or if the water is above their shoulders when they stand, it may be too deep for that child.

Another important factor to keep in mind is if the pool or body of water has a shallow end and a deep end. Children can easily make their way to a spot they cannot touch without realizing it. Finally, make sure your child takes regular breaks to avoid exhaustion and always supervise children when they are in or around water.

Jennifer Wolken, RN, BSN, is Cole County Health Department's wellness coordinator and public health nurse. She graduated from Lincoln University's nursing program in December 2010 and has worked with and cared for those of all ages, from cardiac step-down, pediatrics, labor and delivery, and now with public health.

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