June 25, 2019

Don’t Touch That! And Other Tips for Safe and Rewarding Experiences in Nature this Summer

Little hikers walking on a tree trunk in forestBy Gabriel Cade, MD

Summer. Crocuses popping up optimistically in the yard. Kids yelling at each other outside instead of inside. Looking through half-full bottles of sunscreen and bug repellent, and wondering how on earth we already have poison ivy. Start getting ready for those glorious outdoor days ahead.

Sun Protection

It’s great to be back in the sun, but remember she’s out to get you. UVA (ultraviolet A) radiation causes wrinkles and aging. UVB (ultraviolet B) radiation causes sunburns and cancer. Only use broad-spectrum sunscreen that mentions both of these. Put it on 30 minutes before you go outside, and reapply it every couple of hours. SPF (sun protection factor) is just a multiplier of how long it takes you to get sunburned — it has nothing to do with stopping cancer. You and your kids look great in those UV-protection swim shirts. Learn more about sunscreen safety.

Back to Nature

What’s that curious bug? That interesting plant? This bright red berry? Leave spiders and snakes and “curious bugs” alone. Use deet or lemon eucalyptus oil or permethrin so they leave you alone. Don’t eat unknown plants or berries, even if you’ve been lost for a whole 45 minutes. Google “poison ivy.” Don’t touch it. Wash it off immediately if you think you’ve touched it. If you have a painful rash or swelling or difficulty breathing, you should seek medical evaluation.


It’s great to be resting through winter, building up your strength. But now it’s been a while. Be careful when you go outside this summer. Stretch. Tread lightly. Make sure you take some snacks and enough water. Put some duct tape around your water bottle or hiking pole, it may come in handy. Bring a knife or multi-tool. Do you need any of your medicines?

Before You Leave

Tell someone where you’re going. Have a plan. Check the weather. Remember most lightning strikes occur before or after an electrical storm. Remember you may have to help someone else while you’re out there.

Western North Carolina is an outdoor paradise, and hopefully your health allows you to get outside and enjoy it. We have little to fear from our natural world here, and a little thoughtful planning and education can help ensure a safe and rewarding experience enjoying nature. We’re always here to help if anything goes wrong.

Gabriel Cade, MD, is the director of the Blue Ridge Regional Hospital emergency department.

Rashes, bug bites, sprained ankle, tummy ache. With five locations throughout western North Carolina, Mission My Care Now offers the convenience of walk-in, non-emergency care, even after hours and on the weekend. To find a location near you, visit missionmycarenow.org.