As spring turns to summer, people get excited to go outside and enjoy the warm weather, but summertime also brings unique health hazards. To find out how to stay safe during the summer months, we spoke with Dr. Ravinder Singh, a family medicine specialist at St. Luke's West End Medical Center in Allentown. Here, he offers his advice for avoiding some of the most common summer health hazards.
Insect Bites and Stings
When people spend more time outside, they’re more likely to encounter stinging insects like bees and wasps. Singh says about three percent of people will have a life-threatening response to a bee sting. “Go to the hospital immediately if you have personal or family history of severe reactions to stings, or if you start to experience symptoms like hives, swelling of the tongue, or trouble breathing,” Singh says. Another common insect that can cause serious medical problems is the deer tick, which can carry Lyme disease. Ticks cling to tall grass and brush and latch onto people or animals that brush past. “After you’ve been in a field or the woods, check yourself in the mirror,” Singh says. “If you find a tick, you can use tweezers to grab close to the skin and gently pull it out; then bring the tick to your doctor.”
Everybody loves getting outside in the sun, but it’s important to stay protected from harmful UV rays. “The more sunburns you get, the greater your risk of melanoma,” Singh says. “Any sunscreen over SPF 30 is fine, and it’s best to put it on 30 minutes before you go outside, reapplying every few hours.” If you do get burned, salves like aloe vera or calamine, cold compresses and Tylenol are the best ways to relieve the pain as it heals.
Strenuous activity under hot sun means an increased risk of dehydration, which can lead to serious problems like heat stroke or exhaustion. Signs of overheating can range from dizziness and headaches to vomiting and fainting. “I tell patients to let their body be their guide when they’re working or playing outside,” Singh says. “If you feel thirsty, stop, rest in the shade, and drink plenty of water or other beverage (like a sports drink) with electrolytes — and avoid caffeine, energy drinks or excessive alcohol.”
Not only is summer when people spend more time in the great outdoors, but it’s also when potentially troublesome plants like poison ivy are most abundant. Many — but not all — people will experience a powerfully itchy rash if they touch the plant. “Prevention is the best thing for poison ivy, which means you have to learn how to recognize it,” Singh says. “A common rhyme is ‘leaves of three, let it be’ because it has three pointed leaves on each branch.” If you do touch it, wash the area with soap and water. If you do end up with a rash, and it’s unbearable or covers your face, see your doctor for treatment.
Summertime is also when doctors see a sharp uptick in food poisoning cases, because there’s a greater chance of food being improperly cooked or mishandled when grilling or picnicking. “Any food can go bad if it’s not stored properly, and outside temperatures are perfect for bacteria to breed,” Singh says. “Wash hands before preparing or serving food, use a thermometer to make sure meats are fully cooked, pack all dishes in sealed containers, and use a cooler to keep everything cold.”