SEATTLE — The summer months in the Northwest are the perfect time to get outside. With close proximity to lakes and rivers, it's essential for kids and families to know how to stay safe in the summer sun when swimming or boating.
"We got to remember to protect our skin," says Dr. Jordan Collier, a primary care provider specializing in family medicine at EvergreenHealth Primary Care in Redmond. "Sunscreen is super important, and really what we are talking about is skin cancer prevention. Making sure that you use a sunscreen with SPF, at least 30, covering all sun-exposed areas."
SPF levels on Sunscreens can vary from SPF 4 all the way up to SPF 100. Dr. Collier suggests reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours no matter the level, especially if you are swimming or sweating while exercising.
"A couple things to remember is covering the ears, back of the neck, with a hat that covers those areas, and sunglasses," said Dr. Collier. "Make sure that your sunglasses have at least 99 percent UV blocking. And also chapstick, making sure your lip balm or chapstick has some SPF protection as well."
Dr. Collier also recommends getting swimwear that has UV protection or SPF in them to wear in and out of the pool.
As for brands of sunscreen, more natural options have hit the market in recent years. The one ingredient to look out for is Oxybenzone. "There's some recent evidence out about Oxybenzone as a chemical that's been found in some sunscreens so it's best to avoid that if possible."
The leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 is drowning. "These are preventable deaths and it's so sad when it happens," says Dr. Collier. "Steps that you can do to prevent drowning is number one: swim lessons."
While there is no recommended starting age, the earlier the better, "We have so much access to water around here in the Northwest, especially in the summer months, as people are swimming. It's a good idea to get in. There's lots of different swim lesson options at local community centers or YMCA so it's a good idea to learn how to swim."
Dr. Collier recommends looking into adult swim lessons as well.
"The next thing for prevention is the buddy system. Kids, teenagers, adults, it's never a great idea to be swimming by yourself. You just never know when something is going to happen."
Dr. Collier recalls witnessing a close call with the water at Greenlake around 10 years ago.
"I noticed a small child and his mom on the edge of the dock and the kid fell in, and I was watching and the mom jumped in after him. They both couldn't swim. You know, there's no lifeguards on duty and after a couple of seconds I was able to jump in and pull them back up to the dock and thankfully, everyone was fine."
Two takeaways from Dr. Collier's experience, are that children should wear a life jacket when around water and should always be within an arm's reach of an adult.
If an emergency situation occurs, check and make sure the water is safe for you to enter and that you know how to swim. "Once you pull them out of the water, if they're not breathing, check for a pulse. If they're not breathing, call for help right away and then start chest compressions."
Preparing for Emergencies
Dr. Collier says the most important thing in emergency situations is knowing CPR and recommends people take CPR classes. EvergreenHealth offers free first-aid, CPR and Stop the Bleed classes.
With Seafair just around the corner, your summer activities could include going out on a boat. "The important thing, is to make sure that you have a life jacket for yourself," said Dr. Collier. "If you're invited on a boat, you can't always prepare for everyone else, so make sure you have one. If you own a boat and are inviting people on, make sure there's life jackets for everyone."
If you don’t have your own, King County offers a free life jacket rental program as well as low-cost life jackets available for purchase, ranging from $10 to $20.
To know if a life jacket is an appropriate size for someone, the inside of the life jacket should say, "Coast Guard Approved" and offer a weight requirement.
"When you put it on, it should be nice and tight and snug, and an easy way to check is to have the person hold their arms up all the way up, grab on the top part of the life jacket, and you shouldn't be able to fit your hand in the space," said Dr. Collier.