Summer Safety: Fact vs. Fiction

A primary care physician sheds light on some common summer health myths
Sunglasses poolside

Do you really have to wait a half hour after eating before going for a swim?

While many medical experts have disputed the science behind the old eat-and-wait adage, a study in Medicine, Science and the Law suggests that, yes, maybe waiting isn't such a bad idea.

Of the accidental drowning cases reviewed in the study, more than 79% had recently eaten, which may leave you wondering about the validity of other summer-themed wisdoms. Michele Bailey, DO, a primary care physician at RUSH, helps separate fact from fiction so you can stay safer this summer.

Fact or fiction? With each bee sting you endure, the reaction (pain, swelling, anaphylaxic or severe allergic reaction) gets worse and worse.

Fiction: Plenty of research supports just the opposite, according to the Office of Health, Safety and Security; reactions to bee stings actually lessen with each bee sting.

Another myth regarding bees: Older adults are more susceptible to severe reactions following bee stings, which trigger the body to produce histamines.

"The truth," Bailey says, "is that older adults are typically less at risk for an extreme reaction because they produce less histamine than younger adults."

Protect yourself and your family this summer by following these bee safety tips:

  • Wear light-colored clothing (for some reason, bees tend to attack dark objects)
  • Don't wear perfumes or other beauty products with floral or citrus scents, which can attract bees
  • If you come across a bee or bee hive, walk away as quickly and calmly as you can. If you are carrying food or a sugary drink, put it down before you walk away to keep the bees from following you. If you can't walk away, stand still and try not to make any sudden movements.
  • Don't ever throw anything at a bee hive; you will only make the bees angry and more likely to attack you.
  • If you get stung, don't use your fingers or tweezers to pluck the stinger out (squeezing the stinger will release more venom, causing more irritation). Instead, remove the stinger by scraping the area with a credit card or fingernail. Then, apply ice and a hydrocortisone (anti-itch) cream to relieve any swelling and itching.

Fact or fiction? Swimming pools are germ factories.

Fact (sometimes): Swimming pools — as well as water parks, hot tubs, play fountains, lakes, rivers and oceans — can house and spread germs that cause recreational water illnesses (e.g., diarrhea, skin rashes, swimmers' ear or even an infection called swimming pool granuloma) if proper precautions are not taken, such as keeping swimming tots in clean diapers and treating the water with the appropriate chemicals on a regular basis.

That's not to say all pools carry infectious agents. "To be safe rather than sorry," says Bailey, "check in with the pool operator to see how often the water is tested and treated, or evaluate the water yourself by using pH test strips, which are easily found a your local hardware store."

The normal pH level is 7.2 to 7.8; anything below or above that range could be problematic. Visit the Centers for Disease Control's website to find other helpful hints about recreational water safety.

Tans, like burns, mean you have sustained skin cell damage, which can lead to premature aging and even skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Fact or fiction? Suntans, as opposed to sunburns, are healthy.

Fiction: Tans, like burns, mean you have sustained skin cell damage, which can lead to premature aging and even skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Think tanning booths are safer? Think again. According to the academy, research indicates that indoor ultraviolet tanners are 75% more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never used an indoor tanning approach.

Fact or fiction? It's dangerous to drink out of a garden hose.

Fact: According to the School Safety Alert program, which was launched by the National Parent Teacher Association, Consumer Reports and National School Boards Association, most garden hoses are made with lead that can leach into the water.

High levels of lead in a child's bloodstream can lead to everything from headaches to anemia to behavioral and developmental problems.

For more information about drinking water safety, check out "Water on Tap: What You Need to Know" from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Fact or fiction? Mosquitoes are attracted to sweet-smelling skin.

Fact: Mosquitoes actually do have preferences when it comes to whom they bite, a practice performed only by female mosquitoes who need blood's protein to help their eggs develop.

Researchers from the Entomological Society of America think it has to do with high concentrations of steroids, cholesterol (not necessarily in those who have high levels of cholesterol but those who might be adept at processing it) and certain acids, the smells of which can attract those mama mosquitoes.

Fact or fiction? Grilled meat causes cancer.

Neither: Perhaps surprisingly, the jury is still out on whether eating grilled meat contributes to an increased cancer risk.

What's known: Chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when cooking meats such as beef, pork, fish and poultry using high-temperature techniques (including grilling over an open flame). And according to the National Cancer Institute, extremely high levels of both HCAs and PAHs have been found to cause cancer in animals. 

What's unknown: Research regarding exposure to these chemicals in humans is unclear. The National Cancer Institute reports that in 2015, an independent panel of experts convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined consumption of red meat specifically to be 'probably carcinogenic to humans' but did not conclude that HCAs and PAHs were associated with cancer incidence. 

In addition, there are no federal guidelines regarding consumption levels of these chemicals. 

But if you're concerned about the safety of your meat, the National Cancer Institute offers these recommendations:

  • Limit the amount of grilled meat you consume.
  • While grilling, take the following precautions:
    • Avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame or hot metal surface, and reduce cooking times at high temperatures. 
    • Use a microwave oven to partially cook the meat before finishing it on the grill. This reduces HCA formation by minimizing the time the meat must be in contact with high heat.
    • Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source, which reduces HCA formation in comparison to not flipping the meat and leaving it on a heat source.
    • Remove all charred portions of the meat; do not cook meat to well-done.
  • Don't make gravy from meat drippings.
  • Marinate the meat for at least one hour before putting it on the grill, which lowers HCA formation.
  • Instead of meat, try grilling other foods. Fruits, vegetables and meat alternatives such as soy and tempeh don't form HCAs in the same quantities. However, you should still avoid charring, because PAHs can be found in other charred foods.
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