Stay Safe and Healthy This Summer
by Ken McEntee
Summers in Northeast Ohio are short, so you probably don’t want to lose any days being laid up with sunburn, poison ivy, insect bites or heatstroke.
“Prevention of summertime ailments is always better than treatment,” emphasizes Sujaya Vijayakumar, MD, a family medicine physician on the Medical Staff at Southwest General. “Many conditions can be avoided by using common sense, listening to your body and being prepared.”
Dr. Sujaya—as her patients commonly refer to her—suggests giving your body some time to get used to scorching temperatures, especially if you’re not used to being in the sun. That will reduce your risk of heatstroke,
a condition where the body’s temperature soars to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Heatstroke can become more likely with dehydration.
“People who are used to being in the heat have a lower risk of heatstroke,” Dr. Sujaya explains. “You sometimes see athletes start to practice all day in the hot sun. That’s a bad idea. They should start slow and gradually work up to longer outdoor practices over three or four days.”
Symptoms of heatstroke may include fainting, red or hot skin, nausea or vomiting, rapid heartbeat, disorientation, muscle cramps or weakness, and rapid, shallow heartbeat.
“If you have symptoms of heatstroke, you should seek medical attention immediately,” Dr. Sujaya advises.
Drinking an ample amount of water or Gatorade—preferably not soda or sugary drinks—will help to reduce your risk of heatstroke.
Along with heatstroke, staying out in the sun too long can cause painful sunburn.
“Reports say 30 to 40 percent of adults and 70 to 80 percent of children got sunburned in the past year,” Dr. Sujaya says.
To help prevent sunburn, she suggests using sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. The lotion should be generously spread over the body. If you use an insect repellent, be sure to apply the sunscreen first, with the repellent on top. This will ensure that the sunscreen makes proper contact with your skin.
But what if it’s too late and you’ve already been burned? Keep the affected area as cool as possible and use an anti-itch lotion or a soothing agent to reduce the burning. Sunburns generally heal within 72 hours.
Additionally, Dr. Sujaya suggests staying away from tanning booths.
“Tanning booths increase your risk of skin cancer by 75 percent, especially if you start to use them before the age of 35,” she says. “That’s a very big price to pay for a tan.”
Poisonous plants—such as Poison Ivy and Poison Oak—and insect stings are other summer hazards to keep in mind.
“The best prevention for poisonous plants is to avoid them,” Dr. Sujaya says. “It’s a good idea to wear gloves while gardening, not only to avoid Poison Ivy but also to avoid thorns and cuts from unexpected items. Just in case an accident does happen, Tetanus boosters are recommended every 10 years.”
If you do come into contact with a poisonous plant, wash the affected area immediately with soap and water. If an itchy rash develops, the itching can be relieved by applying an anti-itching lotion, Dr. Sujaya suggests. For extreme cases, your doctor can prescribe steroids.
While bites from mosquitoes can be a nuisance, stings from flying insects like Yellow Jackets can be serious—even fatal—for people who are allergic to the venom. If you are one of those who are allergic and are aware of it, don’t forget to carry your epinephrine (epi) pen. If you have a reaction, such as tightness in the throat or chest, swelling of the lips, worsening of hives or faintness, you should seek medical attention.
With summer being prime time for fun in the pool, Dr. Sujaya notes that drowning is the third leading cause of accidental deaths, especially in children, and more than half of all adult drowning deaths involve alcohol or other drugs, she says.
“Even if you’re a good swimmer, don’t swim alone,” she advises. “Small children should always use a flotation device and adult supervision is a must.”
Vacationers who plan an overseas trip during the summer should consult with their doctor to determine which vaccinations they should have for their destinations. Health risks vary from country to country, says Dr. Sujaya, who is a member of the International Society of Travel Medicine.
“People always look forward to the activities of summer,” she says. “By using common sense and protecting yourself, you can reduce your risks of accidents and medical conditions that can interfere with your summer fun.”
For more information on how you can stay healthy and safe this summer season, call Health Connection at 440-816-5050.