Summer Safety 101
For those who love the outdoors, summer may be a favorite time of year. Long, sunny days bring along greater opportunities to get outside and enjoy nature. But summer also brings with it a unique set of medical concerns. Here are ways to prevent and tsreat a few of summer’s most common ailments.
Swimmer’s ear is an itchy, and often painful, swelling, irritation or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. More formally known as otitis externa, the condition often is called “swimmer’s ear” because it frequently occurs when the ear is exposed to water. Other causes include contact with irritants, such as certain soaps or hair spray, or by the introduction into the ear of a foreign object, like a cotton swab, which can disrupt normal levels of ear wax that help protect against infection.
The key to conquering swimmer’s ear is prevention. Always dry the ears thoroughly with a towel, or try using a homemade ear drop mixture of vinegar and alcohol to dry out ears in which water has become trapped. Avoid swimming in polluted lakes and rivers, which serve as breeding grounds for certain bacteria. Some swimmers with a history of ear infections also may want to wear earplugs.
If you do develop swimmer’s ear, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to cure any infection or an analgesic to help ease the pain. While some cases of swimmer’s ear will go away on their own, you should contact your physician immediately if the pain is severe or persistent, if you experience impaired hearing or if there is evidence of infection, which often is accompanied by a fever or drainage from the ear. If untreated, the infection could become the cause of more severe complications.
One of the most common summer complaints, sunburn occurs when the body’s exposure to the sun exceeds the ability of the skin’s protective pigment, melanin, to prevent harm. No person reacts in exactly the same way as another to the sun, and reactions can vary depending on the time of day of exposure, age, the color of the skin and hair and interaction with certain medications that make someone more susceptible to burning. While some people may burn in as quickly as 15 minutes, others can tolerate the same amount of sun exposure for a few hours.
Unfortunately, by the time the symptoms of sunburn begin to appear—tender, warm and red skin at first, potential blisters or peeling later—the sun already has done its damage. Multiple years of overexposure to the sun has been shown to increase the risk of skin cancer. In fact, even one blistering sunburn may make someone more likely to develop cancer in his or life.
As a result, sunburn prevention is essential when it comes to planning outdoor activities. Avoid direct exposure to the sun when its rays are strongest, usually between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Always use a sunscreen that protects against both ultraviolet A and B rays, with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF value) of at least 15. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes prior to exposure and reapply it throughout the day or after swimming, paying special attention to your face, ears and other sensitive areas. Finally, wear UV protective sunglasses and lip balm.
You can soothe the effects of sunburn with cool baths or cold compresses and with over-the-counter pain medications. You should, however, seek advice from your physician if the sunburn is severe, especially painful or includes blisters. Seek immediate medical attention if the sunburn is accompanied by signs of shock—such as dizziness or faintness and pale, cool and clammy skin—or if the person is experiencing nausea, fever or chills.
Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke
According to news sources, the first four months of 2000 were the hottest on record, and they could warn of a very long and hot summer ahead. Summer’s most dangerous influence comes in the form of three types of heat emergencies: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Listed from least to most severe, these conditions rapidly can advance from one to another. This requires a close watch for their symptoms once temperatures become intense.
Heat cramps are muscle aches caused by a loss of salt as the body attempts to regulate its temperature by sweating. Left unattended, heat cramps can be a beginning symptom of heat exhaustion, which develops as the body continues to become more dehydrated. Some of the symptoms most commonly identified with heat exhaustion include cool or moist skin, dilated pupils, profound sweating, tiredness, headache and nausea or vomiting.
Heat stroke is the most serious of the three conditions. Heat stroke often is signaled by hot, dry, red skin. Victims of heat stroke also may exhibit signs of disorientation, experience rapid and shallow breathing or have a quick and weak pulse.
Victims of heat illnesses should be removed from the sun and allowed to lie down in a cool area with their feet elevated. Unless the victim shows signs of shock, water or salted beverages should be given to sip. Cool, wet cloths and fans can be used to lower the body’s internal temperature. If the condition does not improve, seek immediate medical assistance.
Fortunately, heat illnesses are very preventable through careful safety measures to plan for the hotter temperatures, particularly for children, elderly and obese persons, who are most at risk. Wearing cool, light clothing and resting frequently if you’re exposed to warmer temperatures is essential. Avoid drinking alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, as these promote further dehydration and disrupt the body’s natural ability to regulate its internal temperature.
It’s also important to seek out cool environments during periods of intense heat. If you don’t have access to air conditioning in your home, take a trip to a local mall, library or movie theater. Finally, drink plenty of fluids and make sure to check frequently on elderly neighbors or others who might be isolated and alone.
Summer fun is serious business, with implications for your health that should never be taken lightly. But, by taking a few, simple precautions, you can help ensure a safe and happy summer for everyone in your family.
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