Don’t let your fun in the sun turn into burns and bug bites. Follow Dr. Mistretta’s advice for a safe and enjoyable summer, all season long.

Your Health, Primary Care

Outdoor Safety 101: From Burns to Bugs

Don’t let your fun in the sun turn into burns and bug bites. Follow Dr. Mistretta’s advice for a safe and enjoyable time outdoors as temperatures start to rise.

Whether it’s an afternoon at the pool or a week at your favorite destination, summer and the warmer months beforehand are a popular time to get away – but that’s not all it’s known for. The extra time spent outside and in the heat can lead to an increased risk of things like burns and bug bites if you aren’t careful.

Dr. Anna Mistretta, internal medicine physician and site-based medical director at Atrium Health Primary Care Mecklenburg Medical Group, has advice on how to stay safe and healthy in the warmer months ahead –plus which items you should always have on-hand.

“Keeping a stocked first aid kit, regularly wearing sunscreen and avoiding insect bites are all good tips,” says Mistretta. “Additionally, practicing safety around grills and fireworks, as well as drinking plenty of water, can ensure you have a safe and enjoyable time all season long.”

Sun protection

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it only takes 15 minutes for your skin to burn when it’s not protected from the sun. You might not even know it’s happening, since sunburns can take as long as 12 hours to appear.

“I find myself reminding every patient to protect their skin from sun exposure,” says Mistretta. “Skin cancer is a growing problem in the United States, and every sunburn puts you at greater risk of developing skin cancer in the future.”

Mistretta says everyone needs regular sun protection and recommends using lotions or creams that are at least 30 SPF, instead of clear or spray options.

While you might remember to put sunscreen on in the morning, Mistretta warns that there’s one step many people forget: to reapply throughout the day. “Apply sunscreen, and reapply often, especially after water exposure and drying off with a towel,” she says. You should apply sunscreen to your scalp as well since it’s a sensitive area that’s easily burned.

If you’re spending extended periods of time outside, Mistretta suggests bringing a hat, sunglasses and a long-sleeve T-shirt with you for added protection.

Bug protection

Long sleeves and pants protect you from more than the sun – they also shield you from bug bites.

Whether you’re camping and hiking or just grilling out in your backyard, bug bites are unsightly and itchy. But they can also carry diseases, like Zika, West Nile virus and Lyme disease.

If you plan on spending time outside or near lots of heavy vegetation, Mistretta recommends wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts to protect your skin from bites. And she says to always check your skin and hair for ticks after being in wooded areas.

Heat protection

When you’re busy socializing and playing games outside, it’s easy to forget to drink water – even when it’s hot. According to the CDC, overheating can happen to anyone.

The best ways to protect yourself from heat include staying cool, hydrated, and informed: find air-conditioning during hot hours and wear cool clothing, drink plenty of liquids, and pay attention to heat advisories.

Additionally, Mistretta recommends limiting alcoholic, caffeinated and sugary drinks. If you’re trying to hydrate, she says, just stick to water. Add a little fruit for flavor.

Fireworks safety

There's a few things you can do to stay safe around fireworks according to Dr. Chris Branner, specialty medical director, Urgent Care Services at Atrium Health. Never aim fireworks at people, and be mindful of the fire sources used to light the fireworks -- small burns can come just from lighting them. Also, remember that the combination of adult beverages and fireworks can lead to poor choices, so be careful, especially if there are young children around.

You should also be mindful of the injuries that can result from fireworks. In addition to burns, Branner says that eye injuries are some of the most serious injuries we see. Getting hit in the eye with a firework can be catastrophic, so seek immediate care in the emergency room if this occurs. Most often, however, we see only minor injuries just from the festivities around fireworks gatherings -- sprains, or small cuts or bruises.

Your outdoor safety checklist ✓

Need a quick recap of which items Mistretta thinks you should always have on-hand? Here’s what was mentioned above, plus a few more of her must-haves:

  Antibiotic ointment for minor cuts and scrapes

  Bandages of all sizes for blisters and cuts

  Gauze and medical tape


  Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain

  Ice pack for bumps and bruises

  Long-sleeve T-shirts and pants

  Sunglasses and eye protection

  Sunscreen (30 SPF cream or lotion)

  Unscented lotion


  Video visit

  Identify your nearby Urgent Care 

And remember: If you have an injury or illness that needs a little more than a first aid kit, Atrium Health has care options available 24/7 – call your primary care provider or visit to determine what type of appointment is best for you.