Summertime safety

By: Jun 07, 2010

How to protect yourself from five common summer health hazards

People are prone to different injuries and ailments in the summer than at other times of the year, says Dr. Sanjeev Sharma, a Toronto-based physician. A lot of it has to do with being more active outdoors. Here are five common health hazards threatening to spoil your summer fun – and what you can do to prevent them.

1. Sunburns

Prevention: There are three important things you can do to avoid getting burnt by the sun:

  • Limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Cover up with long-sleeved, tightly woven clothing and a broad-brimmed hat.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally 30 minutes before going outdoors, even on cloudy days.

Treatment: Once burned, you can’t prevent damage to your skin, but you can reduce pain, swelling and discomfort with a nonprescription anti-inflammatory medication, cool compresses and an aloe vera lotion. “But if you have a burn that blisters, you should talk to your doctor,” says Dr. Sharma.

2. Bites & stings

Prevention: A bee sting can be quite serious, says Dr. Sharma. And other bugs, such as mosquitoes and ticks, can also put your health at risk. To keep bees at bay, avoid using fragrances or perfumed soaps and wear light-coloured clothing, he says. “If you’re going to be in the woods or out at dusk, long-sleeved clothing is your best protection from mosquitoes and ticks.”

Treatment: “If you’ve been stung by a bee, sweep a credit card from side to side across your skin to get the stinger out and prevent it from injecting any more toxins into your bloodstream,” says Dr. Sharma. And be aware of what’s happening in your body. If a bug bite of any kind causes a skin rash, lesion or other unusual symptom, talk to a healthcare professional.

3. Poison ivy

Prevention: Remember the “leaves of three, let them be” rule and wear long sleeves and long pants when hiking. If you think you’ve come in contact with the plant, wash your clothing thoroughly.

Treatment: “Poison ivy can be localized and mild, or diffuse and require oral steroids,” says Dr. Sharma. The rash usually goes away on its own in one to three weeks. If it’s a mild rash, cold compresses, over-the-counter corticosteroid creams and calamine lotion can all help relieve any discomfort.

4. Heat stroke

Prevention: Heat stroke is usually caused by over-exertion in hot weather, says Dr. Sharma. “Remember to listen to your body: stay well-hydrated and seek shade if you start feeling overheated, nauseous or faint.”

Treatment: Heat stroke can be dangerous and may require emergency medical help, especially if symptoms include confusion or loss of consciousness.

5. Dehydration

Prevention: Make sure you drink enough fluids to replace those you lose. “If you’re going to be out and about in the hot weather, carry a litre of water with you,” says Dr. Sharma.

Treatment: Drink cool water or sports drinks to replace lost electrolytes. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization.