Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Jonah Brown leaps toward his swimming teacher, Pam Hartley, last year. Proper education can reduce the risks of swimming.

It's starting already. Salmonella in the tomatoes, drowning accidents, tornado warnings.

Summer is finally here, and most of us are ready to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. However, the excitement of finally being outdoors can sometimes cause us to lose sight of our good sense. If we are a bit more cautious and educate ourselves about potential risks and plan ahead, we can greatly minimize health risks associated with summer activities.

We've heard the warnings about sun exposure so suffice it to say remember sunscreen, protective clothing and wide brimmed hats. Remind the kids to keep the bill of their baseball hat facing forward. Keep in mind that certain medications and cosmetics can increase sensitivity to the sun (read your labels).

Never go swimming alone, even if you are a strong swimmer. Understand that pool drains, filters and water intakes have a powerful and potentially dangerous suction component so make sure that hair is tightly pulled back and that there are no loose straps or drawstrings on bathing suits.

When swimming in the ocean know your limits. Cold water, strong currents and undertows can challenge even the best of swimmers.

If you're exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods you may suffer from heat related problems such as heat cramps, dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms range from thirst, nausea, headaches, rapid heartbeat, vomiting and decreased alertness. Should any of these occur, get out of the heat, lie down with your legs elevated, use water or fan the skin to cool down and seek emergency attention.

Mosquitoes, ticks and bees can range from being a nuisance to life threatening. The black-legged tick can carry Lyme disease which begins as a rash that looks like a bull's-eye and can cause a host of physical problems.

West Nile virus, transmitted by infected mosquitoes, usually only causes flu-like symptoms in otherwise healthy people. It can be serious for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Prevent bites by using insect repellent with DEET. Check skin for ticks after being in tall grass or woods, and if any are found remove them carefully with a tweezers. To lessen the potential for bee stings, wear light colored clothing and avoid heavily scented soaps and perfumes.

Careless food preparation including improper storage and undercooking can turn a pleasant picnic into a disaster. Don't just think mayonnaise and meat, you must be careful with any food including fruits and vegetables. Always wash hands thoroughly before and after handling food. Place cold food in a cooler with lots of ice and maintain it at 40 degrees or below. Keep hot food wrapped in well-insulated containers above 140 degrees.

Use the following health organizing tips to have fun in the sun:

• If you are caught in a strong current while swimming in the ocean, swim parallel to the shore until the current relaxes. You can then swim toward land.

• Never dive into unknown water without knowing depth and what is on the bottom.

• Keep rescue equipment (shepherd's hook) and a portable phone near the pool.

• Check open soda cans for bees before drinking.

• Remember you can always find air conditioning in public buildings such as libraries or malls during a heat spell.

This column should not be substituted for medical advice. It is recommended that you talk with your doctor when making medical decisions. Lynda G. Shrager is an occupational therapist, author and professional health organizing consultant from Slingerlands, N.Y. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].