Summer brings on a sense of vitality and health. The longer, warm days means spending time on activities outdoors. Whilst this is enjoyable and therapeutic, some hazards can occur. Here’s a few to be aware of and ways to prevent them.
We often take our eyes for granted and whilst we might remember to use sun screen, we often forget to protect our eyes. The sun rays can lead to several problems in the eyes, even on a cloudy day. From inflammation of the cornea(photokeratitis) to an overgrowth of the conjunctiva(pterygium) to longterm damage with cataracts and macula degeneration, these eye conditions are associated with exposure of the eyes to sunlight. Symptoms include pain, noticing a growth in the eye and a decrease in your vision respectively. In order to prevent these, it is important to protect the eyes using sunglasses that are labelled as uv rays protective. Wearing a widebreamed hat also helps.
Summertime means barbecues and salads. Whilst this can be healthy, it also increases the risk of food poisoning if the food handling rules are not adhered to. Symptoms usually start between one to three days of exposure and often range from mild with bouts of diarrhoea and/ or vomiting to severe with associated fevers, dizziness, decrease in urine frequency, dehydration, persisting abdominal pain, blood and mucous in the stools. Mild food poisoning tends to be self-limiting and staying hydrated with roughly 200mls of fluids for every episode is all that is required. If associated symptoms or concerns, then it is best to seek medical advice. According to the food standards agency, adherence to the ‘4 Cs’ helps to prevent food poisoning- Cleanliness, Cook thoroughly; Chill appropriately; avoid Cross contamination.
Also known as otitis externa, this is inflammation of the skin in the ear canal. Swimming frequently is a risk factor because water gets into the ear which then irritates and inflames the skin. This provides the right environment for micro-organisms to grow and cause an infection. The ear may become itchy, discharge or uncomfortable. Hearing may also become dull. Topical ear drops often settles this. The best way to prevent otitis externa is to keep the ears dry, using a tight fitting cap when swimming, or silicone based earplugs- if they do not irritate the canals. Avoid irritating the ears by using cotton buds, fingers or towels.
Becoming increasingly common, it affects approximately one in four of us in the UK; one is more at risk if they have other allergies such as asthma or eczema. It is due to a reaction to the pollen from plants resulting in inflammation and the typical symptoms of itchy and watery throat, nose, eyes; sneezing; cough; headaches and tiredness. Some people are affected earlier in the spring, whilst others in late summer. This is because of the different pollens released. Decreasing pollen exposure can help to prevent symptoms. This includes avoiding outdoors during peak pollen count times, protecting eyes when outdoors, using protective balms around nostrils, showering and changing once indoors, and keeping doors/windows shut. Treatments that help include antihistamines and nasal sprays which can be obtained over the counter. To prevent symptoms, it is often worth taking medications a couple of weeks before the season starts. If symptoms are severe or you have other allergies, especially asthma, seeing your healthcare provider would be beneficial as other treatments such as immunotherapy may be beneficial.
This can happen within a few hours of sun (including sun beds and sunlamps) exposure. Hot skin that feels painful to touch is usually the first sign of sunburn. Blisters can also occur and over a few days the skin can start to peel. At the extreme end, you can get fevers, chills, headaches, fatigue, nausea or a rash. In the long term, this can cause chronic skin damage with wrinkles, sun spots and skin cancer. Sun protection,even on a cloudy way is the best way to prevent this.
We all need vitamin d and though dietary sources exist, the sun is an important source. Various opinions exist among dermatologists and scientists on sun exposure risk and obtaining vitamin d. The incidence of skin cancer is increasing, therefore sun protection is vital. Also, even with sunscreens, some rays still reach the skin and this, combined with dietary vitamin d may be adequate.
If you do get sunburned, keeping hydrated, cooling the skin down with showers, cool compresses and topical gels such as aloe vera and moisturisers can help. Anti-inflammatory medications can help with the pain. Seek medical help if it doesn’t improve in a couple of days or there is associated fevers, headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, features of an infection or blisters affecting a large part of the body.
As the warm weather sets in, we spend more time in the countryside. There are numerous health benefits to this, however, insect bites, in particular from ticks, can be a cause for concern. Lyme disease or tick bite fever can occur and causes both short and long term effects. Most people do not recall being bitten, but notice a bite with a red circular rash around it. This can happen between three days to about one month after. There can be associated flu like symptoms.Some people can clear this without treatment, however, it can progress to cause joint pains, weakness, fatigue, heart and neurological problems if not treated with antibiotics. In the long term, chronic lyme disease can manifest itself as mental or cognitive problems and arthritis.
Treatment is therefore important should you be bitten by a tick. Prevention by being aware of areas with infestation, using insect repellants, wearing long sleeves, trousers in socks and closed shoes is key. Checking the skin daily for tick bites and removing them as soon as possible also helps. If found, use tweezers, forceps or a tick removal device to grasp the head and mouth parts as close to the skin as you can, and slowly pull upwards, away from the skin without crushing the tick.
Due to excessive sweating, we lose salt and water and can easily become dehydrated in the summer. The body temperature rises and this can lead to heat exhaustion. Associated nausea, headaches, feeling faint and dizziness can occur. Moving to a cool place and drinking loads of fluids usually leads to recovery within 30 minutes. If left untreated, this can lead to heatstroke-when the body temperature rises above 40 degrees centigrade. Confusion, vomiting, fast breathing and loss of consciousness can occur. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and you should summon immediate medical help.
From prickly heat rash,due to clogged sweat glands, to allergic skin reactions from insect bites or exposure to plant sap or oak processionary moths, different skin rashes can occur in the Summer.
Keeping the skin cool and exfoliating regularly to minimise build up of dead skin cells can help to prevent miliaria(prickly heat rash). Allergic skin rashes tend to be self limiting. Oral antihistamines and topical creams can help with the symptoms of itch and inflammation. The rash from oak processionary moths( can occur if up to around 20m from affected oak trees) in particular can last a few weeks. There may be associated sore throat, eye and breathing problems- a condition called lepidopterism. Should this occur, it is advisable to seek medical help. If you have a history of severe allergic reactions, always remember to have your adrenaline pen with you.