With warmer weather comes an increased risk of sun exposure, heatstroke, and water injuries, among others. Here’s how you can prevent them.
Summer’s here, and with it comes longer days, summer Fridays, and weekend getaways. It’s time to get outside, hit the beach, and go on that camping trip you’ve been putting off because of uncooperative weather.
But just because flu season, snow, and ice-covered streets are behind us, doesn’t mean you can let your guard down when it comes to health. The summer season and rising temperatures comes with plenty of health risks too.
“That whole ‘school’s out’ mentality continues through adulthood, with patients more likely to cut corners when it comes to health during the summertime,” says Nitin A. Kapur, MD, a primary care physician with Cedars-Sinai Medical Network in Santa Monica, California. “It’s still important for people to be conscientious and aware,” even when summer fun is the season’s top priority.
Here, experts share the most common summer health hazards, symptoms to look for, and how to prevent them so you can stay safe and healthy all summer long.
Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion — Limit Strenuous Outdoor Activity
When temperatures reach sweltering, it’s not just uncomfortable — it’s also dangerous and potentially deadly. Extreme heat sends an average of 65,000 Americans to emergency rooms annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke, the most dangerous of the heat-related illnesses, can occur when the body is unable to properly cool down after prolonged exposure to excessive heat (such as working or exercising outdoors). Heatstroke is a more severe case of heat exhaustion, Dr. Kapur explains. The good news? It’s preventable.
Kim Knowlton, PhD, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University in New York City, advises people to slow down and adjust work and activity schedules to keep cool during midday, when the sun tends to be the strongest.
Dr. Knowlton recommends checking on friends and neighbors to make sure they’re okay. This is especially important for the young and the elderly, who are most at risk for heat-related illnesses, according to a study published in the July–September 2015 issue of Advanced Emergency Nursing Journal. Above all, be on guard, says Knowlton, who studies the impacts of climate change on public health. “If you start feeling sick, take the heat seriously.”
Here are some symptoms to look out for, according to the CDC:
- A body temperature of 103 degrees F or higher
- Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
- A fast pulse
- Headache, dizziness, or confusion
- Loss of consciousness
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, pale, clammy skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
Mild and Severe Dehydration — Don’t Skimp on Water Intake
We hear it all the time: Drink more water. But when out soaking up the sun, imbibing summery cocktails, or playing sports, it’s even more important to make drinking water a priority. Skip it for too long and you could suffer from dehydration, which can range from mild to severe, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Simply put, drink lots of water throughout the day, especially when spending time outdoors in the sun. Kapur tells patients who plan to be lounging or sweating outside to aim for 16 ounces of water every hour, and to consider dialing back strenuous activity between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is strongest.
RELATED: Unusual Signs of Dehydration You Should Know About
Long, sunny days are arguably one of the best parts of summer, but can be a danger to our largest organ: our skin. Venture out too long without sunscreen and you could not only get a severe sunburn and age the appearance of your skin with wrinkles, fine lines, and sun spots, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but could also increase your risk for skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States.
Again, limit your time in the sun and choose a shady spot whenever possible, says Kapur. Most importantly, make sunscreen a daily habit, whether or not the sun is even shining. Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and be vigorous about reapplying.
Spots to apply sunscreen that are commonly overlooked? The front and back of the neck, chest, the back of the knees, ears, scalp, and top of the feet, adds Natasha Mesinkovska, MD, director of clinical research for the department of dermatology in the School of Medicine at the University of California in Irvine. Once you’ve properly applied sunscreen, don’t forget to don sunglasses for more than style; UVA and UVB rays can also damage eyes.
Water-Related Injuries — Practice Safe and Supervised Swimming
Nothing says summer like a beach or pool day. But swimming has plenty of dangers, from infections to diving injuries and even drowning, which is the leading cause of unintentional injury death among children ages 1 to 4, according to the CDC. This danger is only increased by the ubiquity of cellphones. With more adults scrolling on devices, they can be more distracted from keeping a close eye on kids while they’re in the water. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute suggests having one adult be the ‘designated water watcher,’ similar to a designated driver.
Consider these tips from the American Red Cross for safe swimming setups, especially at pools:
- Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
- Swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone.
- Don’t leave young children unattended or without adult supervision.
- Avoid distractions when supervising children around water.
- Have children or inexperienced swimmers wear life jackets but do not solely rely on them.
- If a child is missing, check the water first. Every second is important in preventing death or disability.
Additionally, if you often find yourself predisposed to swimmer’s ear, an infection of the outer canal of the ear, per the CDC, try wearing earplugs when taking a dip, suggests Kapur.
When traipsing through hiking trails and exploring the outdoors, don’t forget to be mindful of insect bites, which “are not only annoying, but can transmit serious illnesses,” says Knowlton. Be especially wary of ticks and mosquitoes — mosquitoes can transmit diseases such as West Nile virus and Dengue fever, and for people who live in the Northeast, ticks can carry up to 16 different infectious illnesses, per the CDC, including Lyme disease.
Use insect repellent even on short hikes, says Kapur. If you’re camping, consider pretreating your tent or hammock with repellent as well. If you can, even in the heat, wear long sleeves and pants and tuck your socks into pants, Knowlton adds. Also be sure to check yourself, plus friends, family, and pets, for ticks after outdoor activities.
The CDC also suggests staying in the center of trails when going on a hike and avoiding areas with tall grass, as well as treating clothes with products that contain 0.5 percent permethrin, an anti-parasite medication that also acts as an insect repellent. If you’re worried you’ve been in a tick-infested area, they also advise bathing or showering within two hours after an outing and washing clothes in hot water — and drying them on high heat, too.
We typically think of spring when it comes to allergies, but warming temperatures and longer warm seasons also increase pollen production and extend allergy season, according to Knowlton. Pollen settling onto surfaces we touch, like picnic blankets or patio furniture, can also set off an allergic skin reaction, or contact dermatitis, points out Kapur.
Another common allergen to look out for when spending summer hours outdoors? Poison ivy, which grows in most areas of the United States. You don’t even have to directly touch the toxic oil of a poison ivy plant for it to cause itching, rashes, and blisters; it can be transmitted via sports equipment or camping gear, pet fur, and clothing, according to the American Skin Association.
Check pollen counts in your area at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology website. To keep your home pollen-free, Knowlton also suggests using a damp cloth to remove pollen from hair and skin or showering right when coming in from outdoors, as well as washing outdoor clothes and bedding to remove pollen that has settled there, and vacuuming regularly. For poison ivy, wearing long pants and long sleeves when hiking or potentially entering an area with this plant is the best way to avoid this troublesome summertime side effect.
Who doesn’t love dining al fresco? Whether grilling or picnicking, though, it’s key to consider how long your feast has been sitting out unrefrigerated, or if what’s hot off the grill is truly cooked through. “We forget that mayo on tuna salad really needs to be refrigerated, or how long our food’s been sitting in the car, or outside in the sun,” says Kapur, who has seen plenty of picnickers come in for gastrointestinal complaints, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The CDC recommends practicing safe grilling by refrigerating and separating poultry and seafood from other food to prevent cross-contamination, washing your hands often while handling food, cleaning your grill and tools, and thoroughly cooking meat. Kapur urges anyone packing a meal to-go or storing leftovers to be mindful of refrigeration.