With summer just around the corner, families are gearing up for some fun in the sun. But before we kick off a season full of beach trips, barbeques and boats, it’s time to set the record straight regarding some common summertime safety myths.
“If it’s cloudy, I can ditch the sunscreen.”
Dr. Alison Ehrlich, a board-certified dermatologist at FoxHall Dermatology in Washington, DC, says a sunburn is possible even if it’s overcast.
“You can still get a sunburn on a cloudy day,” she says, noting that water, snow and even certain types of clouds can reflect rays from the sun and amplify its harmful effects.
Ehrlich recommends applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 40 or higher 30 minutes before heading outdoors and re-applying every two to three hours. She also suggests wearing a full-coverage hat, UPF clothing and sunglasses, since eyes can be damaged from sun exposure.
“If someone is drowning, they’ll be splashing in the water.”
Bonnie Alcid, CEO of British Swim School Central Maryland, says that while movies may show people thrashing about, calling for help and waving their arms, that’s not always what happens when someone is drowning.
In many instances, “it’s a silent danger,” she says. “It happens so quickly, we don’t have the opportunity to see or most importantly even hear what’s going on.”
Lapses in adult supervision — even brief — are particularly dangerous, Alcid says. It only takes about two minutes for a child to become unconscious once they’re submerged. What’s more, small children can drown in just an inch of water.
“Parents need to be diligent to always have eyes on their kids,” she says. “As much confidence as you may have in your child’s ability to swim, it’s the other factors that one after another will decrease your child’s ability to save themselves,” Alcid also warns parents that swim floaties, which don’t always keep kids vertical, are not Coast Guard-approved life saving devices and shouldn’t be used to teach children how to swim.
“Ticks are only a risk in the woods.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, ticks can be found in your own yard or neighborhood, not just in thick forest. From grassy areas to gardens to your pet’s coat, ticks know few bounds.
To prevent tick bites, apply an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent like DEET or picaridin before heading outdoors. If you’re going hiking or camping, spray your boots, clothing and gear with permethrin in a well-ventilated area, then let it dry.
The CDC also recommends avoiding wooded areas with high grass and checking your clothing and your body for ticks when you return home.
“I can swim, so I don’t need a life jacket.”
Even for confident swimmers, wearing a life jacket is a crucial part of summer water safety, especially if you encounter the unexpected.
According to the BoatUS Foundation, “more than two-thirds of all boating fatalities are drowning incidents and 90% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.”
The National Park Service, which sees countless summertime visitors, stresses that conditions at natural bodies of water are typically quite different from those at the average community pool. Even strong swimmers can be overcome by the water, warns the NPS.
In some places and situations, you may be required by law to wear a life jacket regardless of your age or ability. Check uscgboating.org for your local regulations.
“You need to wait 30 minutes after eating to swim.”
Dr. Amanda Caswell, associate professor and program director of athletic training at George Mason University, says this long-held summertime myth has no legs to stand on — or swim with.
A review by the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Committee published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education found “no evidence supporting the link between eating before swimming and drowning.”
When it comes to how our bodies work, Caswell says there is no basis for waiting to swim after enjoying a meal.
“I only need to hydrate if I’m thirsty.”
The truth behind this one, Caswell says, is that feeling thirsty means you’re already behind when it comes to water intake.
“If you are going to be out in the heat, sun and humidity,” Caswell explains, “hydrate before going out and during activity.”
Furthermore, sports drinks are not the best way to stay hydrated, she says.
“The amount of sports drinks needed to replenish electrolytes after activity is an amount that is not possible for a person to intake in one setting. The best source of hydration before, during and after activity is water combined with a balanced nutritional diet,” Caswell says.
This story first appeared in our June 2021 issue.