Living easy (and healthy) in the summer
Record breaking high temperatures in the winter and spring caught many of us off guard. The warming trend is predicted to continue this summer with even hotter days. While not everyone can agree on what is causing the scorching weather, many of its health implications are immediate and undeniable and affect us all.
To prepare you for the hot months ahead, I consulted with Steve Zuckerman, MD (Minneapolis) and Ian Kenning, MD (Healthpartners – Nokomis Clinic) on how to say safe and healthy. Get ready for a great summer and protect yourself with these tips:
Everyone loves to be outdoors in the summer, but the heat can cause serious problems in a short period of time if you’re not careful. Heat exhaustion is a condition that occurs from prolonged exposure to heat. Symptoms include:
dizziness, nausea and excessive sweating. If you suspect heat exhaustion, you should seek shade immediately, drink fluids and spend the rest of the day out of the sun. If heat exhaustion isn’t remedied quickly, it can progress to its much more dangerous relative, heat stroke. Dr. Zuckerman explains that once someone has reached this level, they are in shock. Their temperature rises significantly and they stop sweating. He advises individuals with heat stroke to lie down out of the sun with their head down, rehydrate and seek medical attention.
Although there are plenty of signs to look for, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can also occur without much warning. You may not feel thirsty and the dry air can soak up sweat before you even feel it. Dr. Zuckerman stresses, “If you are planning to be outside at all, you should be drinking water, and plenty of it.” Water is a great way to stay hydrated, but if you are in the heat for over an hour, you also need to replenish the salt lost through sweat. Beverages with electrolytes will help bring your body back to normal. Sports drinks and coconut water are both great options.
The air quality this year is worse than ever, and locally, Ramsey County recently received an “F” on its air quality index rating from the American Lung Association. The culprit of the failing grade is high levels of particulate matter in the air.
Particulate matter is a mixture of tiny particles of chemicals, metals, acids and dust in the air. These dangerous, microscopic pollutants sneak their way into our lungs, which can result in major respiratory problems.
Children, the elderly and individuals with lung and heart diseases are at the most risk for damage from air pollution, but poor air quality poses health risks for all of us. Air quality is the worst on hot summer days, because this is when fumes and pollution are transformed into harmful ozone (aka smog).
Protect yourself daily by checking the air quality index at www.airnow.gov. Follow their guidelines on when to restrict outdoor activity. Dr. Zuckerman strongly suggests using an air filter or mask if you have existing respiratory problems or if you are unable to avoid the outdoors. They are relatively inexpensive and offer great protection from air pollution.
Shun the sun
Dr. Zuckerman and Dr. Kenning agree that the best way to stay healthy in the sun is to completely avoid it. Not only can sun exposure cause the serious heat illnesses mentioned earlier, but it also may lead to a myriad of skin problems including skin cancer. The worst time to be outside is when the sun’s rays are at their strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
When staying indoors isn’t an option, Dr. Kenning emphasizes the importance of protecting your skin. He recommends choosing a daily sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher that protects against both ultraviolent A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. To make sure you have lasting sun protection, slather all exposed areas generously 30 minutes before heading outdoors and reapply every two hours.
Smart clothing choices are also crucial on sunny days. Dr. Kenning recommends wearing a hat with a wide brim as well as sunglasses that wrap. Just as with sunscreen, make sure the glasses protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Long sleeves and pants will not only protect against the sun, but also against those pesky ticks, mosquitoes and spiders.
Many prescription medications can cause sun sensitivity or even serious allergic reaction. Sunscreen can often minimize impact, but in certain cases it can worsen symptoms. Consult with your doctor or pharmacist to check the sun’s effect on your Rx.
Keep the sneezes away
Temperatures aren’t the only numbers reaching record highs this year—pollen counts are sneaking up as well. Dr. Kenning explains that the warm weather gave way to early spring blooms with high pollen counts. However, pollen allergies can be abated with some simple steps. He suggests closing doors and windows during pollen season and as well as using air conditioning at home and in the car. He also explains that pollen counts are at their highest in the early morning, so this is the best time to stay indoors.
If you just can’t seem to win the battle with pollen-allergies, Dr. Kenning suggests antihistamines may be an option. Benadryl, Zyrtec and Claritin are popular over-the-counter choices. However, he advises you should speak with your doctor to help make the right medication decision, especially if you take other medication or are choosing treatment for a child.
Swimming, boating and fishing are some of the most enjoyable activities in the summer, but they too come with their own list of hazards. Last summer, Hennepin County saw a surge in the number of drownings. Protect yourself while boating by bringing a lifejacket and carrying your cell phone in a plastic bag in case of an emergency. When swimming in a pool or lake, always make sure a lifeguard is present.
In the summer, Dr. Zuckerman sees many patients with injuries from fish hooks. Barbed fish hooks can easily poke through skin and cause major damage—he has even seen a patient who took a fish hook to the eyelid. His advice? If possible, don’t use barbed fish hooks, and be sure to bring a pair of (clean) pliers with you to remove the hook in case of injury.
Dr. Zuckerman and Dr. Kenning agree that prevention is the key to making the most of your summer. If you keep their helpful suggestions in mind, you can make way for a healthy, relaxing summer.