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Staying Safe in the Summertime: 7 Tips for Common Problems

The summer sunshine can draw you to spending time outside. You might be headed to the beach for vacation, playing pickleball or other outdoor sports or getting a backyard cornhole tournament started. 

Summer also brings its own health hazards. But with a little information and planning, you can avoid them and safely enjoy the season.

William Denq, MD, an emergency medicine and sports medicine specialist with Banner – University Medicine, said, “There are a lot of dangerous things out there, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying all that the summer has to offer! Be aware, take appropriate precautions and you will have some great memories you can cherish that don’t involve a visit to the emergency department.”

Here’s what to know about these seven common summer health issues:

1. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

When temperatures and humidity climb, it can be hard for your body to regulate its temperature. You could develop:

  • Heat exhaustion: Your body gets overheated and can’t cool down. You may notice heavy sweating and a rapid pulse and you might feel weak. Untreated, it can progress to heat stroke.
  • Heat stroke: Heat stroke occurs when your body’s temperature regulation system fails so you have a dangerously high body temperature. It can be life-threatening. Symptoms include confusion, nausea, rapid breathing and loss of consciousness.

Watch for these symptoms of heat-related illnesses:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Hot, dry skin, in the case of heat stroke

You can reduce the odds of getting heat exhaustion or heat stroke if you:

  • Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. 
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing in breathable fabrics.
  • Stay in the shade or air conditioning in the hottest parts of the day. “Create shade with a light sun hat or sun umbrella,” Dr. Denq said.
  • Shift your exercise to cooler times of the day.
  • Make sure you don’t stay in a hot car for too long.
  • If you need to be outdoors, take lots of breaks.

If you get a heat-related illness, cool down as quickly as you can. “Remove all unnecessary clothing and equipment and apply ice packs to the neck, armpit and groin,” Dr. Denq said. You can also take a cold bath or shower and use a fan to cool off.

If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away.

2. Sunburn

You can get a sunburn at any time of year, but they’re more common in the summer when you may spend more time outdoors with more exposed skin.

Your skin may get red when you’re out in the sun, or the redness may set in a few hours later. Sunburns can get worse over one or two days, with symptoms like:

  • Redness and inflammation
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Itching or blistering
  • Swelling
  • Peeling or flaking of the skin as it heals

In severe cases, sunburn can lead to:

  • Sun poisoning: A severe form of sunburn with fever, chills, nausea and dehydration.
  • Long-term skin damage: Repeated sunburns increase your risk of premature aging, wrinkles and skin cancer.

You can prevent sunburns if you:

  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating
  • Wear protective clothing and hats
  • Seek shade when possible

If you get a sunburn, drink plenty of water. “Hydration is important with sunburns since water is drawn to the skin’s surface when it is injured,” Dr. Denq said.

3. Dehydration

You sweat more when you’re hot, so you’re at higher risk for dehydration in the summer. If you’re dehydrated, you may notice:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Dark yellow urine or urinating less than normal
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Dry skin
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sunken eyes
  • Irritability or confusion

Severe dehydration can lead to more serious symptoms such as fainting, rapid breathing, low blood pressure and unconsciousness. 

These tips can help you prevent dehydration:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol
  • Eat fruits and vegetables that have a lot of water, like watermelon, cucumbers, strawberries, oranges and lettuce

If you think you’re dehydrated, drink an electrolyte mix to help your body absorb water. Avoid the ones with artificial sweeteners since they may have a negative impact on hydration. “Use real glucose,” Dr. Denq said.

Seek medical attention for vomiting, diarrhea, fever or if you can’t keep fluids down. Dehydration can quickly become a medical emergency.

4. Drowning

Pools, lakes and oceans can bring relief from the summer heat, but they come with a risk of drowning, especially for young children and people who can’t swim well. 

To prevent drowning:

  • Supervise children around water. Drowning can happen in seconds, so never leave children unattended, even in shallow water or inflatable pools.
  • Learn CPR and basic water rescue techniques.
  • Use flotation devices when you’re boating or swimming in open water.
  • Swim in designated areas with lifeguards.

5. Sports injuries

Summer is a great time to get out on the court or field, but that can mean you’re more likely to get sports-related injuries like:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Fractures and dislocations
  • Overuse injuries like tendonitis, stress fractures and muscle strains

You can reduce your risk of sports injuries with:

  • Warm-ups before you exercise
  • Good technique
  • Protective gear
  • A gradual increase in how long and how intensely you exercise
  • Rest and breaks when needed
  • Cross-training to help prevent overuse injuries

If you have a sports injury that’s not getting better, see your primary care provider or a sports medicine specialist. “If you cannot bear weight, have significant pain that prevents movement or sustained a serious head injury, seek care at your local emergency department,” Dr. Denq said.

6. Insect bites and stings

When you’re outdoors, you’re sharing your space with all kinds of bugs. Bites and stings from mosquitoes, ticks and bees can spread disease, get infected and cause allergic reactions

To help prevent bites and stings:

  • Use insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants in wooded or grassy areas.
  • Check for ticks after outdoor activities.
  • Know how to remove stingers or ticks safely.

“If you get a bite or sting, you can treat it with cool compresses, calamine lotion, aloe vera gels or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” Dr. Denq said. “If you develop severe allergies, please go to the emergency department for treatment and monitoring.”

7. Foodborne illnesses

Foodborne illnesses can strike at any time of year. But cookouts, picnics and potlucks in the summer can increase the risk of getting sick from salmonella, staphylococcal toxin, E. coli, campylobacter, listeria or norovirus.

Food poisoning can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and dehydration. It’s especially dangerous for young children, older people, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

You can help prevent foodborne illnesses if you:

  • Wash hands and surfaces before preparing food.
  • Keep perishable foods refrigerated or on ice.
  • Cook meats thoroughly to proper temperatures.
  • Avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods.
  • Carry clean water if you’re hiking or camping. “Avoid drinking directly from freshwater sources such as a stream,” Dr. Denq said.

The bottom line

In the summer, you’re likely to spend a lot of time outdoors. Swimming, boating, sports and picnics are all a lot of fun. Just make sure you’re taking the right steps to keep you and your family safe.

For more summer safety tips, connect with your primary care provider or an expert at Banner Health.

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