Health Conditions in the Summer

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.

Eye injuries

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.

Food poisoning

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.

Swimmer’s Ear

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.

Hay fever

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.

Sunburn

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.

Lyme disease

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.

Heat exhaustion

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.

Skin rashes

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.

Embarrassing symptoms you should not ignore

Everyday we experience disturbances in our bodies that we might perceive as normal, self limiting or potentially worrying. How do we know which to ignore, treat ourselves or seek advice? There are of course, red flag symptoms which should not be ignored. Other disturbances may be problems we would rather not talk about.
I would like to share with you some embarrassing symptoms that are potentially worrying and would urge you to get checked out. You may be worried about what would happen when you see your healthcare professional. This is understandable, however we are here to make sure you are well looked after and have all appropriate tests and treatments and feel healthy. As well as discussing these signs and symptoms you shouldn’t ignore, I would also like to share with you what to expect when you see your doctor.

Excessive sweating

Sweating helps to cool down the body, however there are various reasons why it can become excessive. Sweating continuously, regardless of activity or stress levels, usually indicates that the sweat glands are constantly activated. This is a condition called hyperhidrosis. And it can be focal -in the armpits or palms – or generalised. The cause of this can range from infections to drugs to hormone problems to idiopathic. Finding and treating the underlying reason is therefore crucial. Focal sweating can be reduced with topical preparations available on prescription, should antiperspirants not work. A referral to a dermatologist may be required as other treatment options such as ionotophoresis (the use of water currents to stop focal sweating), oral medications or botox are available.

Painful bowel motions

This can occur as a result of passing stools too frequently or infrequently. It is often due to haemorrhoids or fissures around the back passage. Straining due to constipation exacerbates this as it causes trauma to the surrounding area. The pain makes you less inclined to pass stools and this can make it worse as stools get drier and more difficult to move. It is important to have this treated so as to prevent severe constipation, profuse bleeding or infection in that area. Treating constipation with dietary modifications including fibre rich foods, exercise and water is vital to help piles or fissure heal. Laxatives and topical ointments and suppositories can also be obtained from a pharmacy or prescribed. It can also be associated with bleeding, heavy periods or lower abdominal discomfort. This warrants a review by your healthcare provider.

Nipple changes

This includes leaky or inverted nipples or skin changes. There are several causes for this including problems with your hormones. Provided you are not breastfeeding, producing breast milk should be investigated as it may be due to excess of a hormone called prolactin. Excess prolactin may be due to a benign growth in the pituitary gland in the brain. Other causes include medications, stress, thyroid and kidney problems. These are all treatable. If left untreated, it can affect your periods, cause infertility, contribute to osteoporosis and cause pressure effects if due to the benign growth. Your health practitioner would ask further questions regarding associated symptoms. This may include your family history, menstrual cycle, contraceptive use and vision. They would then carry out an examination and might organise blood tests. Depending on their findings, a referral to a breast or hormone specialist may be warranted.

Abnormal smell

When the natural environment in the vagina becomes upset, this can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria which causes a ‘fishy’ smell. This is a condition called bacterial vaginosis. It might be associated with discharge and itching. Triggers for this can include menstruation, douches and semen. This is different from a yeast infection which causes itch with an odourless discharge and can easily be treated with an over the counter medication such as canesten. Depending on your symptoms and sexual history, your doctor may examine you and take samples to rule out other infections. A vaginal gel or antibiotics may be prescribed. Usually, bacterial vaginosis doesn’t cause further problems, however, if it occurs at certain times, such as during pregnancy, it may increase the risk of delivering earlier than expected. It is also associated with a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections and inflammation of the pelvic region.

Bloating

Though often benign and due to eating foods or drinks that produce excess wind, it can also be due to other conditions. If unexplained or associated with other symptoms, for instance, urine or bowel frequency, abdominal pain, then a visit your doctor is warranted. Depending on their findings, they may do blood tests and scan to rule out anything sinister such as ovarian cancer.

Incontinence

Women often find they leak urine when exercising, especially running. This is known as stress incontinence. This can be due to the increase in abdominal pressure with exercise. Incontinence can also occur because of an overactive bladder. The latter is known as urge incontinence. Some women have both. In addition to exercise, other causes for this include medications, weak pelvic muscles, urine infections, to name a few. Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause. It is important to see your doctor to rule out any structural abnormalities, test your urine and direct you in the treatment path that would be more suited to your symptoms. This include pelvic floor exercises or bladder retraining or seeing a (gynea) urologist.

Low libido

The cause of this is complicated and could be due to physical, psychological and social reasons. Women can experience this due to hormone changes, however, mental health problems, such as depression is a common cause for this. It affects the chemicals in your brain which are required for
a normal libido. There may be other symptoms of depression such as trouble sleeping, general aches, as well as feeling sad and hopeless. Some may be subtle and you might not put them together as being related. Speaking to your healthcare professional can help working out wether your symptoms are due to depression or stress and also signposting you to the best treatment option for you- such as talking therapy, mindfulness, exercise therapy. Medication might be required as a last resort, depending on the severity of your situation and should ideally be one with minimal effects of libido.