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Guard against 5 top summertime hazards

By Patricia A. Sereno, M.D.

Summer can be a great season, with warm weather, more daylight and outdoor activities, and vacations. The season also presents plenty of health and safety hazards for all ages. Here are five of the more prevalent dangers and steps to take to protect yourself and your family.

Skin cancer rates are soaring, caused by overexposure to sunlight. Sunshine is critical to good health, providing Vitamin D, but too much is downright dangerous. Skin cancer is now the most common form of cancer in the U.S. The most deadly type - melanoma - has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Remember that skin is the largest organ in our body, protecting everything else inside.

How to protect: Limit your exposure, as the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays are the main villain, and avoid tanning beds (emitting the same harmful rays). Wear sunglasses and hats. Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 or above when outside. Be careful with children, whose skin is more sensitive and as new studies suggest that overall exposure in childhood is a predictor of who gets skin cancer later in life. Develop a routine to inspect your body periodically for any changes, and if you see any suspicious lesions, contact your family physician.

Insect-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (both mosquito-borne), and Lyme disease (transmitted by ticks), are common to our area. Deaths from West Nile virus increased to their highest level in 2006 in the last four years. Cases of EEE last year, including the death of a child, prompted the first aerial spraying for mosquitoes in Massachusetts in 16 years, and cases of Lyme disease have jumped 50 percent in Massachusetts in just one year.

How to protect: Avoid outdoor events between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks. Use a repellent, preferably with DEET, according to instructions. Remove areas of standing water around your home, where mosquitoes breed. Avoid areas where deer ticks are likely to be found - brushy, wooded or grassy places.

Noise pollution has become a public health concern for many communities. Lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and other power equipment produce high levels of noise that can damage hearing, especially within confined spaces. We have a limited capacity to repair the damage, and in general, hearing loss is irreversible.

How to protect: Use foam ear plugs or earmuff-style protectors, which can reduce sound about 20-30 decibels and 40-60 decibels respectively (Noise over 85 decibels can be damaging.). Loudness and time of exposure determine the extent of hearing damage, so limit both. Turn down the volume whenever you can. Young people: be careful at rock concerts, with personal music players, and loud speakers in cars.

Recreational injuries increase as pools open and off-road vehicles, skateboards, and other leisure-time equipment come out of storage. Even the latest fad - wheeled sneakers - has prompted orthopaedic surgeons, after worldwide reports of injuries to children, to issue new safety advice.

Steps to safety: Check playground and pool conditions, especially home installations, and keep young children under a watchful eye. Wear helmets, wrist protectors, knee and elbow pads, and be acutely aware of high traffic areas.

Highway and street hazards rise as more two-wheelers - motorcycles and bicycles -- appear. With motorcycle registrations in Massachusetts up 42 percent in the last six years, 53,000 more two-wheelers are on the streets and roads. And as gas prices remain high and environmental concerns rise, more people are using both kinds of bikes.

Steps to safety: We can all drive with fewer distractions (Ask yourself: Is that cell phone call really necessary?), reduce speeds, remain alert for the unexpected, wear seat belts, and add some politeness and courtesy to our motoring. For those on two wheels and two feet, pay more attention to the rules of the road and be ever alert for the inattentive, distracted driver.

These aren't the only warm weather dangers we face, of course, but they are ones that affect most of us and are growing in frequency. Be conscious of them, and above all, use care, caution, and common sense. Don't put yourself in the regretful position of telling yourself, after the fact, "If I had only.."

Patricia A. Sereno, M.D., a family physician with Hallmark Health, is the President of the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians. Physician Focus is a public service of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Readers should use their own judgment when seeking medical care and consult with their physician for treatment. Send comments to