A woman applying sunblock on the beach outdoor on a sunny day. UV protection.

Summer is the season of good times outdoors, and whether those come at pool parties, golf outings or while walking in the woods, taking precautions and preventive measures against what nature can throw at us is advised.

Knowledge and simple preparations are key to enjoying the weather and good times.

Skin cancer, several types of which can be caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available from the CDC, 88,059 people were diagnosed with melanoma and 8,092 people died of melanoma.

Dehydration is an oft-overlooked summer health risk that can come on suddenly and with potentially serious consequences, and biting insects that can cause a wide range of maladies from harmless itching to deadly viruses are lurking just about everywhere. Plants, too, can inflict their own forms of punishment, to which anyone who has ever dealt with poison ivy or poison oak can attest.

You may not be able to control the environment, but you can control how you manage the challenges it presents.


When it comes to staying hydrated, there are varying recommendations. And even then, there can be differences in how much one needs based on age, gender, size, climate, level of physical activity and health conditions.

According to the U.S. Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, adequate daily fluid intake for women is 11.5 cups and for men, 15.5 cups. Higher intake may be needed for those who are physically active or in warmer climates, while lower intake may be needed by those of smaller body size and in cooler climates.

It’s important to remember that drinking water is not the only way to stay hydrated. Eating cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli, strawberries and watermelon can help. Many fruits and vegetables have a high water content and contribute to hydration efforts. Decaffeinated tea and coffee, as well as juices and some sodas count, too, but watch out for sugar.

Experts advise to drink when you’re thirsty and to monitor the color and amount of your urine, keeping in mind that the color may also be affected by certain foods. If urine is bright or dark yellow, more hydration is needed.

Mild dehydration can cause symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, weakness, headache, dry mouth and dizziness. Moderate to severe dehydration can lead to more dire consequences, including a decline in cognitive performance, drop in blood volume that can cause blood pressure to plummet or dangerously low levels of oxygen in the body, seizures caused by electrolyte imbalances and renal damage.

Bites and Stings

The best way to avoid insect bites and stings is simply to avoid the areas where those insects and related animals are, though that is not always easy.

This may be difficult when it comes to mosquitoes. But locations with many artificial containers, such as old tires and wrecked cars, can provide an excellent area for larval development and should be avoided.

When it comes to ticks, however, people can avoid wild animal trails and transitional areas between dominant forms of vegetation — such as from a forested area to a meadow — where ticks are particularly abundant. Ticks can live year-round but tend to be more prevalent from spring to fall and in certain habitats because of their animal hosts.

Wearing long-sleeved shirts and tucking pant legs into socks is advised. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends treating clothing and gear with products containing .5% permethrin, as well as using a repellent on exposed skin that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus, paramenthane-diol or 2-Undecanone.

After returning from the outdoors, check your body, clothing and gear for ticks. A full-body check should include examining the armpits and groin area, as well as feeling the back of the head and neck, and the rest of the skin.

Mosquitoes are responsible for spreading the world’s most damaging vector-borne disease, malaria. It kills approximately 800,000 people per year, but usually is not a problem in the United States. Mosquitos can also spread West Nile virus, though, which does occur in the U.S.

Ticks are most notable for spreading Lyme disease, primarily in the upper northwest and north-central parts of the United States, though it can occur elsewhere. Ticks also can spread related organisms and chronic infections that can create a slew of other complications. And there is an infectious bacterial disease known as tularemia in the Ozarks of Missouri spread by ticks, horse flies and mosquitos.

Topical anti-itch sprays with Benadryl can be helpful for itching. A menthol powder may be needed for relief of stings like those of fire ants. Calamine lotion also can provide sting relief. Aspirin and ice packs are good for swelling.

Following mosquito bites, a visit to the doctor is needed if someone develops a fever, headache and/or neck pain. Medical help is also advised when a tick bite leads to a rash, especially with a clear spot in the middle, and/or fever. For stings, swelling, hives and difficulty breathing also require medical attention.

Poisonous Plants

As many who have wandered off trail or cleared out a strange patch of greenery on their property have learned the hard way, plants such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac can leave a lasting impression — typically, a rash that can be spread if not properly addressed.

Even those three tend only to be prevalent in certain regions. And where they are, people often pass down the rules well. Identification is the best defense against those plants, experts say.

All three transfer a substance called urushiol, an oily compound that spreads the plants’ rash-inducing defense mechanisms. Washing up well after a walk that involves vegetation, as well as changing clothes, is recommended.

In the event that someone suffers a rash, there are over-the-counter medications that can help, and in many cases there is not much a physician can do beyond what people can do for themselves, though a visit is recommended if someone is highly sensitive or if there are questions.

One plant to also be aware of is wild parsnip. While taxonomically it is the same as parsnip grown in one’s garden, the wild version has a compound in the sap that can create major problems for anyone who makes skin contact with it, as it can cause severe skin blistering.

Water Safety

Water safety moves to the top of many minds when the weather warms up. Whether at a pool, beach or on a boat, awareness is important. Top tips from the CDC include to make learning to swim a priority, especially if you want to enjoy being around water. Always staying with a friend or family member — even if you’re an experienced swimmer — and in supervised areas is also important, as is knowing your limits.

General swimming tips also include avoiding horseplay and diving into shallow water. Overall, never float where you can’t swim or are unsure if you can swim.

Specifically when outdoors, make sure to stay alert to currents and weather conditions, and to always wear a life jacket when boating.

Sun Protection

Sunscreen is a must — and not just in the summer — but there are also other ways to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Seeking shade is one additional form of protection, whether it be under an umbrella, a tree or elsewhere. Long-sleeve shirts and pants, when possible, are another, and some clothing is certified as protecting against UV rays. 

Wearing a hat with a broad brim can also help, but don’t forget to cover sensitive areas like the ears and the back of the neck. 

Even if  using these methods, combine them with a broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of 15 or higher. Reapply after more than two hours and after swimming, sweating and drying off. 


For many, warmer weather also signals allergy season, with sneezing, congestion, runny nose and other symptoms. Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is common when trees and flowers are blooming. There are steps that can be taken to lessen the irritation, however. 

One step, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to limit time outdoors on dry, windy days. This includes avoiding lawn mowing, weed-pulling and other activities that stir up allergens. Changing clothes and showering after being outdoors can also help, as can wearing a face mask when completing necessary outdoor tasks. 

Monitoring pollen counts and closing windows, staying indoors and taking over-the-counter medicine when they are high are also recommended precautions. Using high-efficiency filters on air conditioners and dehumidifiers can also be helpful. 

And of course, always visit a health professional for further advice if home remedies are not easing symptoms.