Nurses scrubbing their hands

Nurse Safety Tips for Summer: Avoid the Burns and Bites

June 26, 2018

The sun is out, and the sky is blue, and you’re ready to head outside on your day off to enjoy the great outdoors! Except there’s a whole lot of potential danger out there: bug bites, poison ivy rashes, sunburns and other things that can make you feel pretty lousy. So, in honor of National Safety Month, it’s worth taking the time to consider a few invaluable nurse safety tips.

Identifying and Preventing Rashes, Burns and Bites

Poison Ivy

Some of the most common rashes that pop up in the summertime are those induced by contact with poison ivy or other poisonous plants. 

“Beware of those three leaves,” said Seun Ross, DNP, MSN, CRNP-F, NP-C, NEA-BC, director of nursing practice and work environment for the American Nurses Association (ANA).

If you do come into contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac, the most important step to take is to thoroughly wash the plant’s oily resin from your skin. This oil, known as urushiol, is what irritates the skin and causes that painful rash to develop. 

“Find some soap and water and start scrubbing,” said Ross, adding that you shouldn’t touch anyone else until you’re certain all the oil is gone. 

The next step is to apply a hydrocortisone cream to the affected skin. You may also need something stronger, depending on your sensitivity, so you may need to pay a visit to your primary care physician or an urgent care center. If the rash continues to get worse, or it affects your eyes or mouth, it may also warrant a visit to the doctor. 

Sunburns

Avoid getting a painful sunburn by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen to all exposed skin before going outside, said Linda S. Markham, RN, DNC, executive director and past president of the Dermatology Nurses’ Association (DNA). A good rule of thumb is to use at least as much sunscreen as you could pour into a shot glass. 

“You’d also want to make sure you want to apply at least 30 minutes prior to exposure,” said Markham. “You want it to soak in and do its job.”

If you forget to reapply or don’t apply enough to begin with, you may feel the sting of burned skin afterward. 

“Once the damage is done, you have to let its run its course. There’s not a lot you can do besides moisturize and keep hydrated,” said Markham.

Insect bites

One of everyone’s least favorite summer activities is dealing with insects, notably those pesky mosquitoes. 

“A lot of bug bites itch, so people scratch,” said Markham. “They can easily get infected.” 

If you’ve already purchased some insect repellant and citronella candles, you’re one step ahead of the game when it comes to warding off mosquito bites.  There are numerous products on the market available, depending on your preferences. 

But don’t just depend on an application of your insect repellant to protect you from ticks. You may want to wear long sleeves and pants if you’re out in the woods. And afterwards, do a full body check to make sure you don’t miss a tick determined to make its mark.

“They like to hide in inconspicuous areas like the groin, behind the ears, the scalp,” said Markham. “You don’t want to leave the head or feet in. You want to make sure it’s completely removed. Otherwise infection again can be a problem.” 

Nurse Safety in Summer

Maybe you’ve already embraced all these safety tips and managed to stay burn- or bite- or rash-free yourself. Hopefully you’re able to pass along useful information to your patients, too. 

But what if you encounter patients with a suspicious rash or burn when you’re at work?

Nurses who work in the ER or urgent care may encounter patients bearing ugly rashes from time to time. A good ER safety strategy that works for nurses in other settings, too, is to avoid touching those rashes with your own bare hands. 

“Anything that you don’t know what it is that’s on the skin, you should wear glove to protect yourselves. You never know,” said Markham. 

As you may know, a poison ivy rash itself is not contagious--it’s the oil from the plant that causes the irritation to develop. So, unless the person still has oil remaining on their body, you shouldn’t be at risk if you come into contact with it. But it’s still a good idea to don those gloves anyway.