Six Summer Health Risks and Tips for Prevention
According to the CDC, extreme heat sends more than 65,000 Americans to the emergency room every year. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke, the two most severe heat-related illnesses, can occur when the body is exposed to excessive heat and is unable to cool down. Early signs of heat exhaustion include pale, clammy skin; heavy sweating; weak, rapid pulse; and dizziness or nausea. Without care, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke which can result in damage to vital organs and muscles, and in some cases, can even become fatal.
- Avoid outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.
- When working or exercising in the heat, take frequent breaks to cool down and hydrate.
- Listen to your body. If you start seeing signs of overheating, discontinue physical activity, move to a cool place to rest, remove excess clothing, place cool, damp cloths over your skin, and replenish your electrolytes with cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar.
2. Sunburn and Sun Damage
Overexposure to the sun’s rays, generally defined as anything more than 10-15 minutes without sunscreen, can cause irreparable harm to the skin.While the visible effects of a sunburn will heal, some of those cells will be forever altered, resulting in DNA mutations that have the potential to become cancerous. The Skin Cancer Foundation warns that “even one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life.” In addition, experts caution that exposure to UV rays can increase the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and sunspots.
- Make sunscreen a daily habit, whether or not it’s sunny outside. Per the CDC, even cloudy days carry a risk of UV exposure.
- Experts at the American Academy of Dermatology recommend a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher, reapplied at least every two hours.
- When possible, limit your time in the sun, opt for shade, and cover up with hats and long sleeves.
3. Insect Bites
Outdoor adventuring is good for the body, and good for the soul, but it can come at a cost, and that cost is commonly known as: bug bites. Most insect bites, while unpleasant, are harmless, and can be treated with anti-itch creams and over-the-counter antihistamines. But some bites can be dangerous, exposing you to serious illnesses such as West Nile virus, dengue fever, Lyme disease, and malaria. Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and flies, are the most common culprits of insect-borne illnesses, and these species tend to flourish during the summer months.
- Use insect repellent even on short hikes, preferably one that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET.
- If possible, even in the heat, wear long sleeves and pants and tuck your socks into pants. (loose-fitting, moisture-wicking, light-colored fabrics to prevent overheating), advises the
- Be sure to check yourself (as well as friends, family, and pets) for ticks after outdoor activities.
- Pay attention to outbreaks. Check the CDC Travel Health Notices website and heed travel warnings and recommendations.
4. Asthma and Allergies
Smog, air pollution, high pollen counts, and high humidity can all cause spikes in both asthma and allergy attacks, which makes summertime something of a perfect storm. According to the American Lung Association, grass pollens, which tend to be at their height during the summer months, are a common trigger for those who suffer from either condition. Drastic changes in temperature are also thought to play a role in some asthma attacks. Symptoms of allergies can include sneezing, stuffiness, itchy eyes, runny nose, and coughing, while symptoms of asthma include difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness or pain.
- Be aware of your environment.
- Check pollen count and air quality before stepping out.
- Try to stay indoors, especially when pollen count is high.
- Consult your physician about over the counter and prescription options for managing symptoms.
5. Ear Infections
Swimmer’s ear, also called otitis externa, is a bacterial infection that occurs when water sits in the ear canal for a long period of time, allowing bacteria and fungi to grow. It can happen to anyone, but is most commonly diagnosed among children. Symptoms include redness and swelling, itchiness inside the ear, and pain when the outer ear is tugged.
- The CDC recommends using a swim cap or ear plugs when swimming, and drying your ears thoroughly after swimming or showering.
- To drain water, tilt your head so that one ear faces down, allowing water to escape the ear canal. To assist, gently pull the earlobe in different directions. Then repeat for the opposite ear.
6. Food Poisoning
Picnics, barbeques, garden parties, and pretty much any other outdoor-themed event during which we get to eat delicious foods, are, in our opinion, the best part of any summer. But, even the most vigilant of us can lose track of just how long that potato salad has been sitting in the sun. Warmer temperatures provide the perfect environment for foodborne bacteria to incubate and multiply, especially in perishable foods such as mayo, meat, and dairy.
- The FDA cautions not to let food sit in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F for more than two hours at a time. If outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees F, that time frame drops to one hour.
- Store cold food below 40 degrees F until it’s ready to eat.
- Cook beef and pork to 160 degrees, poultry to 180, and thoroughly wash all vegetables.
- Toss foods that have been sitting out for too long. It’s just not worth the risk.
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