For many people, summer is full of outdoor activities and events that make the most of sunny weather. However, long-awaited summer fun can have its own set of risks if you’re not prepared. Read our top tips below to learn more about how you and your family can stay safe and healthy during the warmer months!
Stay Hydrated and Take a Break from the Heat
As temperatures rise, our bodies expel more water (in the form of sweat) to try to cool us off. Extra sweating is an expected – if annoying – part of braving the summer heat, but for those who aren’t replenishing water as quickly as it is lost, dehydration can occur. This condition is often characterized by excessive thirst, headache, low urine output or dark urine, muscle cramps, and dizziness, and can be mild or so severe that it becomes life-threatening.
When temperatures and humidity are so high that the body has a difficult time cooling itself through sweating, heat exhaustion – or the more serious heat stroke – may result. If you are in a very warm environment and experience confusion, clammy skin, nausea or vomiting, and weakness in addition to excessive sweating, you may have heat exhaustion and should drink cold water, move to an air conditioned room, or take a cool bath to lower your body temperature. Heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency and causes hot, red skin, a rapid heartbeat, and unresponsiveness, and can even damage the brain and vital organs. Young children and the elderly are especially susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
Limit Your Sun Exposure
While those of us in cold weather states look forward to basking in the sun all summer long, the old saying “too much of a good thing” definitely applies to sun exposure. Most of us are familiar with the red, tender skin that results from a minor sunburn. However, when sunburns are so severe that they blister, peel, and cause nausea, chills, fever or vomiting, this is referred to as “sun poisoning.” Depending on the severity, sun poisoning may require medical attention, and frequent bouts can also increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.
The best protection against sunburn and sun poisoning is wearing hats, long-sleeved shirts, and other garments to block the sun from reaching the skin, and/or applying (and frequently re-applying) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater. Individuals with light hair, skin or eyes may be at a higher risk of sunburn due to lower levels of melanin, the pigment in the skin that protects against UV rays. However, we should all take precautions to avoid excessive sun exposure, as skin cancer and other sun-related conditions can happen to anyone.
Avoid Annoying Bites and Stings
When summer comes along, humans aren’t the only creatures enjoying the warm weather – a wide variety of bugs also become more prevalent as temperatures increase. Some insects like bees and wasps can deliver a painful sting when provoked, and mosquitoes, fire ants, spiders, chiggers, and ticks can cause inflamed bites. In both cases, washing the area with soap and water and applying an anti-inflammatory ointment or calamine lotion may help relieve itching and irritation and allow the area to heal quickly.
Sometimes, bites and stings can trigger allergic reactions, or even transmit dangerous infections. If you develop a rash or unusual symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, weakness, or a worsening wound from a bite or sting, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Ticks have been known to transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and may cause allergic reactions if their mouth parts become stuck in the skin. Additionally, mosquitoes can infect people with West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, and Dengue, among other illnesses. Using bug spray and wearing pants or long sleeves while in insect-heavy areas is the best way to avoid exposure. Individuals who know they are allergic to certain bug bites or stings should also carry and use an epinephrine injector (EpiPen) to avoid a potentially life-threatening reaction.
Steer Clear of Food Poisoning
In the United States, barbeques, picnics, and other outdoor events are staples of the summer months. Practicing proper food handling can help ensure that unwanted guests like E. coli and Salmonella don’t show up at your party! Making sure food is cooled appropriately is one of the most important factors when planning picnics or outdoor meals – illness-causing bacteria can grow on any food left at room temperature for long, and especially on cream- or egg-based foods like potato salad. Don’t serve or eat food that has been left out for longer than two hours, or one hour in especially warm environments. If you are hosting a meal, make sure to keep any raw meats separate from cooked foods, wash vegetables and food preparation surfaces well, and cook food to appropriate temperatures. Following these simple steps will help ensure you have a fun and “foodborne illness-free” celebration.
If you and your family are in need of medical care or additional information on these or any other conditions, contact your Crittenton healthcare provider, or get more information on understanding the symptoms and signals of when to go to the emergency room.