Summer Exposures - May 2022

Tips for Living with Seasonal Plants, Heat and Insects

When preparing for summertime outdoors, Michelle Tarbox, M.D., a dermatologist for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, said it’s important to be on the lookout for plants, sun exposure and insects.

“As people go back out into the world in the summer months and the warm weather invites us out of our homes, we can come into contact with different things that can cause skin issues,” Tarbox said.

To help our skin, and our health make it through the summer months as safely as possible, Tarbox offered some tips to deal with a few of the season’s most common ailments: heat rash, sun poisoning, poison ivy, insects and ticks.

Heat Rash

There are many different types of heat rash. The most common type, known as miliaria, can occur when the openings to the sweat ducts get backed up, prompting moisture to exit the sides of the sweat ducts and causing inflammation in the skin. That in turn can create miliaria rubra, an itchy and uncomfortable condition marked by red bumps around the openings of the sweat glands in the skin.

Other types of heat rashes could occur because of an imbalance in our skin flora. “Small amounts of yeast lives on our skin normally, but it can experience blooms of overgrowth due to the presence of increased moisture from sweating, which can be more of a problem in the warmer months,” Tarbox explained. “This can cause significant discomfort and inflammation because our immune system really does not like yeast. If it sees it, it attacks it very rigorously, so we get a lot of inflammation, a lot of erythema — that's redness — and a lot of pain.”

A yeast rash, which also has a characteristic yeasty smell, can be treated with over-the-counter anti- yeast medicines. If the rash fails to improve with treatment, or if it worsens, Tarbox advised seeking medical attention from your primary care physician or dermatologist.

Sun Poisoning

More than simply a really bad sunburn, sun poisoning can make it difficult for the body to regulate temperature, which can lead to significant internal symptoms and issues with blood pressure and heart rate.

Sun poisoning is an often-urgent condition commonly marked by feeling lightheaded and weak that can strike if you've been out in the sun for an extended period of time and have become dehydrated. When that happens, the person should be taken somewhere cool where they can begin rehydrating themselves. Those experiencing sun poisoning also may develop headaches, chills and nausea.

Aids include: Be extra mindful of the hot sum from 10-2, wear sunscreen, stay hydrated and wear protective covering.

Poison Ivy

Approximately 80% of people exposed to the leaves of the poison ivy plant will develop its signature rash.

Because the urushiol oils that cause the rash can be easily spread, even underneath the fingernails, thoroughly cleaning the hands and other areas of the body that may have been exposed to plant.

For milder cases, topical steroids and antihistamines to help relieve the itch are often effective, and some individuals get comfort from Calamine lotion or oatmeal baths. If it's a relatively significant case, the person may require a treatment with systemic steroids like prednisone from their PCP.

Insect Bites

Insect bites, one of the most annoying summertime scourges, is often the price of admission for us enjoying the great outdoors. However, there are several smart moves one can make to minimize exposure to insects: use appropriate pesticides for your age and medical condition and wear protective clothing.

Tarbox said it’s also wise to avoid places where insects may be drawn such as tall unruly grassy areas, areas of standing water and places where there's brush and foliage with which you're not familiar. If you plan to be in these environments, wear insect repellent.