The weather is warming up and you can’t wait to have fun in the sun, and regardless of where you live, summer means bathing suits, barbecues, and enjoying the great outdoors. It also means an increased risk of unpleasant and, in some cases, potentially fatal illness and injuries. Here are seven common summer health issues and the most effective ways to prevent them.
7 Summer Health issues
Prevent sunburn by using sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are physical barrier type sunscreens that protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. These are less irritating to the skin and less disruptive of the body’s delicate hormonal balance than products that contain benzophenone-3 (Bp-3); homosalate (HMS); 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor (4-MBC); octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC); octyl-dimethyl-PABA (OD-PABA); parabens (preservatives that have been found to be carcinogens); and butyl-methoxydibenzoylmethane (B-MDM). Avoid products with these ingredients!
Other options for avoiding sunburn include wearing protective gear such as sun hats and clothing that cover the majority of your skin without being restrictive or causing you to be too hot. Use beach umbrellas, or time beach visits to be out earlier or later in the day. The sun is at its strongest around midday (10am – 2pm) making you more susceptible to excessive sun exposure.
2. Heat illness
Heat illness is common among athletes, children and older adults in the summer especially. Signs of heat exhaustion include weakness, fatigue, nausea, headache, clammy and moist skin and profuse sweating with normal to slightly elevated body temperatures. Signs of heat stroke include mental confusion, delirium, loss of consciousness, convulsions, lack of sweating, hot and dry skin with increasing body temperature.
To prevent heat illness, stay hydrated. If you are doing intense physical activity and you are sweating heavily, drink at least one quart of water per hour, even if you don’t have thirst. Break up your physical activity with rest or at least taking time to be in the shade, doing an activity that allows your heart rate to decrease a bit before starting in on the heavy workout. Ease in to outdoor activities. Do not wait until the hottest day of the year to decide that you are going to start jogging again after a five-year hiatus. Do heavy physical activity before 10am or after 2pm, using the cooler parts of the day to do your most intense workouts. Wear clothing that allows your body to breathe. Light colors are optimal as darker shades attract and trap the heat. And above all, don’t push yourself. If you feel you are becoming exhausted or overheated, go inside and seek out someone who can be with you and get you hydrated to make sure you remain conscious.
3. Food poisoning
Summer is picnic and barbeque time. It’s fun to spend time with friends and family, eating outdoors. To make sure your meals don’t make you sick, follow a few simple rules. Use coolers for any foods that contain animal products, including dairy and eggs. Warm weather temperatures can cause bacteria to multiply at a rapid pace. These bacteria can produce dangerous toxins that will make you sick. These bacteria cannot be seen with the naked eye, nor can you smell or taste them.
The only way you can prevent foodborne illness is to follow a few simple rules. Animal products (meat, poultry, fish, eggs) should not be eaten raw and should be kept below 40 degrees F after cooking if it is a cold dish or above 140 degrees F if it is a hot dish. Keep raw and cooked meat, poultry, eggs and fish separate. Thoroughly cook all meat. Use a thermometer to ensure that meat and poultry are well done and observe food safety rules. Dairy and all things containing dairy should be kept below 40 degrees F. To prevent food poisoning, discard all foods that have been left unrefrigerated, especially if in the sun, for more than two hours. It is also advisable to boost your immune system and have strong digestion to minimize effects of bacteria consumed accidentally.
4. Ticks and Lyme Disease
Deer ticks can cause Lyme disease, a bacterial disease transmitted to humans who are bitten by infected ticks. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, but if you experience a rash or any unexplained illness accompanied by fever following a tick bite, you should consult your physician and explain that you were bitten by a tick. Avoiding being bitten by a tick is the best way to avoid Lyme disease.
To avoid being bitten, avoid tick-infested areas such as wooded areas or land with tall grass and weeds. If you must be in such areas, wear light colored clothing that protects your entire body (long sleeved shirts, long pants, boots and a hat or other head covering). Be as thorough as possible so that ticks do not crawl between layers. Apply natural insect repellant, then wash after coming indoors. When hiking stay in the middle of the path to minimize contact with branches and weeds. Thoroughly check yourself and your children, pets or hiking partner for ticks. If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately. Ticks rarely transmit disease if they are attached for less than four hours.
How to remove a tick:
If you need to remove a tick, do not burn it with a match or cover it with petroleum jelly. Do not use bare hands. The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. If tweezers are not available, grasp the tick with a piece of tissue or cloth or whatever can be used as a barrier between your fingers and the tick. If the mouthparts do break off, do not become alarmed; once the mouthparts are removed from the rest of the tick, the tick can no longer transmit the Lyme disease bacteria. If you want to have an intact tick identified, put it in a small vial of rubbing alcohol and contact your local health department for assistance. Wash the bite area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic such as tea tree oil.
5. Poison Ivy
Prevention is the best way to go when it comes to poison ivy and poison oak. When you are gardening or if you are hiking or even on a barbecue in an area rich with wild trees and plants, make sure you and your children know how to identify these plants. If you are in doubt, ask a park ranger or someone who knows and do not touch the plant if you are not sure. Oils from poison oak and ivy stick to skin, clothing and animal fur and can spread that way as well. In areas where you suspect there may be poison ivy and you will not be able to avoid contact, wear protective clothing and cover your body thoroughly. Use care when removing these clothes and wash them immediately, separately from other clothing. When you think you have come into contact with these sticky oils, wash immediately with cold water.
6. Bee stings and mosquito bites
There are lots of ideas on how to keep the swelling down on bee stings and to lessen the itch on mosquito bites. You can make a paste out of baking soda and water or apply mud to reduce swelling. Some even say you can rub banana peel on the affected area for mosquito bites. Regardless, it’s best to prevent stings and bites when possible.
Completely avoid any repellant using DEET or other toxic materials as your skin is the largest organ and absorbs toxic substances that you apply to it. You can buy insect repellant sprays in the health food store that use essential oils to deter the mosquitoes, or use citronella candles to place around your patio or deck during summer months. You can also make your own insect repellant using household items like vodka and basil or combining essential oils like citronella and lavender. Wearing protective clothing can help as well. When possible, protect yourself from bites by staying indoors where mosquitoes are particularly prevalent or near areas where bees swarm.
Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in. We are constantly losing water through our urine and sweat, as well as the vapor of our breath. Prevent dehydration by consuming plenty of pure water. You will notice if you are dehydrated when your urine is dark yellow or your mouth is dry. In extreme cases, those who are dehydrated will experience weakness, dizziness, palpitations, confusion, sluggishness, fainting, and the inability to sweat.
If you will be out in hot weather, doing strenuous activity, prepare by being well hydrated in advance. Bring water with you and drink often. Make sure you have enough water on hand to last through the day or however long you will be outside. Avoid drinking alcohol as it is a diuretic and impedes your ability to accurately judge your level of dehydration. If you have trouble drinking water, suck on a popsicle or ice chips, or if you are exercising heavily, you may want to use an electrolyte-replacement drink. Coconut water is a good, all-natural choice for electrolyte replacement. Other commercial brands may have excessive sugar that can lead to further dehydration. Avoid heavy activity during the hottest or most humid parts of the day. Take frequent breaks indoors in air conditioning or at least find a shady place to rest and rehydrate.