Summer Safety: Early-morning hikes to late-night campfires

Until recently, many Vermonters had never heard of wild parsnip. But now it seems to be everywhere – in the news, crowding alongside the highway, popping up at the edge of the neighbor’s yard. Sap from the plant, which looks like Queen Anne’s Lace but with yellow flowers, is capable of inflicting painful and lasting chemical burns if it comes in contact with skin and sun.

Thanks to the advocacy of a young woman from Essex who shared her story on social media, Vermonters have been sharing more ways to keep themselves safe from this threat and talking about other safety concerns that present themselves in the summer.

Here, UVM Medical Center experts offer advice for those looking to enjoy the area’s mountain trails, lakeside beaches and evening ball games safely.

Protect Yourself and Children from the Sun

Studies show that only 43 percent of Americans wear sunscreen. And while it might be a surprise to some, recent studies show that Vermonters are ranked fourth in the country for the number of cases of skin cancer – and second for number of cases of melanoma, which is aggressive and can be deadly. “Everyone should try to put sunscreen on every single day,” says Dr. Melanie Bui, clinical dermatologist at the UVM Medical Center. Experts suggest using SPF 30 or higher, and reapplying every two hours. Hats and sunglasses add an extra layer of protection to the skin and eyes.

Dr. Lewis First, of the UVM Children’s Hospital, says that infants under six months should never be in direct sun due to their sensitive skin. He advises shielding them from the sun using a sunshade on strollers or an umbrella on the beach. It’s important for adults to wear sunglasses, but it’s especially important for children, since the risk of retina damage from the sun’s rays is greatest in children under 10. If your child does get sunburned, ease the pain with acetaminophen, a cool compress, and aloe vera lotion.

Put Out Fires Safely

Rebecca Bell, MD, says that when she first started treating pediatric burn injuries, she saw a lot of injuries from campfires. While some were burned by active campfires, most were burns from fires that had already been extinguished. This is because smoldering coals, ash, and embers can stay hot enough to cause burns for up to 24 hours. When you visit a park or campsite make sure children steer clear of fire pits and grills and are wearing shoes. Always extinguish fires with water — not dirt or sand – and make sure the area is cool to the touch with the back of your hand before turning away.

Stay Hydrated with water and fruit

Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink water. During periods of prolonged heat already this summer, the UVM Medical Center’s Emergency Department and Urgent Care locations have seen patients come in with heat exhaustion and fainting. Heat can also exacerbate existing chronic conditions, so be sure to stay in an appropriately cool place. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate. Fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon or cucumber, are a great way to satisfy your appetite and help stay hydrated at the same time.

Treat Exposure to Invasive Plants Quickly

Many Vermonters were raised to look out for Poison Ivy. Now that wild parsnip, giant hogweed and other potentially dangerous plants are more common, it’s important to know that coming in contact with the sap can be dangerous. If you have been exposed to sap from wild parsnip or any other plant, wash your skin with soap and water right away. Then, keep your skin completely out of the sun for at least 48 hours. “Apply sunscreen and stay inside, because if you don’t get irradiated with UV light, you shouldn’t get those symptoms,” says Dr. Eike Blohm, toxicologist at the UVM Medical Center. If you see blisters beginning to form, call your doctor to discuss options for managing the discomfort and avoiding infection. The Vermont Department of Health also recommends washing any clothing that has been exposed to sap right away.

In partnership with UVM Medical Center