4 Surprising Summer Health Hazards – And How to Avoid Them
Summer is right around the corner, and for a lot of us that means a vacation is in store. Will you head to the beach? Travel abroad? Pop a tent at a nearby campsite?
You’re probably not thinking about summer vacation health hazards as you plan, pack or travel. Unfortunately, they happen. As a family physician in Alexandria, Virginia, I see plenty of them. Sometimes they could have been prevented, if my patients only knew what to watch for.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a short list of summer health safety tips, potential vacation risks, and how to avoid them.
They’re practically everywhere in the country, not just in remote areas. My family medicine practice is in Fairfax County, just outside Washington, D.C., where there are three species of ticks that can spread diseases to humans (deer ticks, lone star ticks and American dog ticks). In fact, lyme disease from ticks is on the rise across the U.S. Tick bites are easy to prevent if you know what to look out for.
To reduce your risk of tick bites:
- Walk in the center of trails and steer clear of bushes and tall grass. Ticks can’t jump, so they sit on the tips of grasses and shrubs waiting for a host to brush past.
- Use insect repellant with DEET on skin and clothes. DEET is the best tick repellent since it not only protects against potentially harmful ticks, but also against mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.
You know the importance of wearing sunblock, but sunburn and skin cancer aren’t the only risks of spending time outdoors. Heatstroke can occur when your body overheats to the point of being dangerous. Signs include confusion, nausea, rapid heart rate and more.
These are the two main preventable causes of heat stroke:
- Prolonged time in hot, humid weather. Older adults and people with chronic illness are especially at risk. Drink plenty of water and take breaks from the heat.
- Strenuous activity in hot weather. If you’re not used to exercising outside when it’s hot, summer vacation is not the time to start.
3. Recreational water illness
Once in a while, I’ll get a call from a patient who has a bad case of diarrhea after spending a day at a waterpark or lake. There are many possible causes of contaminated water diseases, including the water itself. Recreational water illness, or RWI, includes a range of illnesses you can get from germs and chemicals in public swimming pools, hot tubs, waterparks, lakes and rivers.
One way to stay safe is simply to use your good judgment before jumping in: If the water looks dirty or the smell of chlorine is practically choking you, take a pass. You can’t always see or smell the danger, though. If you do get sick, let your doctor know about it. Sometimes RWI doesn’t resolve quickly on its own and needs treatment.
4. Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac
If you touch poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac when you’re gardening, hiking or camping this summer, you’ll probably know it. Oils in these plants cause an itchy rash that starts in one to two days and can last for days or weeks.
The surest way to stay safe and prevent coming into contact with poison oak is to cover bare skin when you’ll be in contact with foliage. You may also want to try an over-the-counter barrier product – such as Ivy-X – that helps create a protective barrier between your skin and the oil from the plant.
Too late to prevent the rash? The recommended poison ivy rash treatment is taking an antihistamine pill to reduce itching, however it is best to avoid antihistamine creams, which can make the rash worse. Oatmeal baths, cool compresses and short, lukewarm baths/showers can also give you relief.
This blog reflects the medical opinion of Dr. Bret Wohler, an MDVIP-affiliated, board-certified family practice physician, and not necessarily the opinion of all physicians in the MDVIP national network.