Summer is almost here! With endless outdoor activities to enjoy, this season can be one of the most rewarding — and we want to make the best of it. But as we increase our appetite for adventure, we also raise a few minor — and major — health risks. Here are some common summer health issues to look out for this season, along with solutions to help protect the whole family.
- Heat stroke: Heat stroke is very dangerous, especially for children. It is caused when the body temperature is drastically elevated over a short period, without time to acclimate. Extreme dehydration also plays a role. If you notice that you or your child are very “out of it”, dizzy, or exhausted and unable to focus in intense heat, or if nausea or vomiting is present, get to the emergency room for treatment. This is critical, so don’t be shy about it. A 500 ml saline IV can save lives. It’s best to prevent heat stroke altogether by staying out of intense heat; resting rather than participating in intense activity during extreme heat, and keeping well hydrated with electrolyte fluids containing sodium, potassium and magnesium.
- Dehydration: Most of us don’t drink enough water normally, and during intense heat, dehydration can be potentially deadly, again especially for children. Children are smaller with less of a fluid reservoir, so they can dehydrate much more quickly. It’s particularly dangerous in dry climates because sweat evaporates so quickly you may not even notice that you are losing a large amount of fluids. Symptoms can be similar to heat stroke, so cooling down and resting are critical. It’s also crucial to replenish fluids and electrolytes as mentioned above. After a certain point however, there’s only so much that oral hydration can do if the dehydration is extreme. In these cases, a saline IV can also save lives. Extreme dehydration and heat stroke are both medical emergencies and can be life threatening if not treated promptly.
- Sunburn and the truth about SPF: Repeated sunburn may be the biggest health risk. Despite the known risks of skin cancer many still want to tan in the sun, which increases chances of developing skin cancer. However, many commercial sunscreens also contain ingredients that have been linked to cancer and hormone imbalances. Some sun exposure is healthy, and provides us with the best source of cancer fighting vitamin D3 – but don’t let skin burn or tan too much. This is critical for children, as cumulative sun damage earlier in life dramatically increases risks of skin cancer later. Use natural sunscreens with ingredients like the old standby, zinc oxide, and don’t be fooled by high SPF protection — many experts question these ratings. For example SPF 30 may only provide 5% greater protection than SPF 15. Heat and inflammation from the burn can be treated topically with arnica gel, and systemically with foods and botanicals such as fresh vegetables, mint, honeysuckle, and others.
- Swimmer’s ear: Swimmer’s ear is caused when water enters the ear canal and gets trapped by excess ear wax, temporarily reducing hearing. It can also cause inflammation and swelling and may lead to ear infection in more serious cases. The following gentle method can help provide relief for children and adults suffering from swimmer’s ear. This method involves the application of an antiseptic, softening agent to the ear, such as tea tree oil, grapefruit seed oil, garlic-infused olive oil, or a rubbing alcohol and white vinegar mixture. Lie sideways to allow the mixture to sit in the ear for a few minutes, and then gently flush with a large, warm water-filled syringe.Specific supplements can also be taken to help reduce congestion and pressure in the ears by supporting circulation. For example, Padma Basic® provides extensively researched circulation support as well as being a powerful immune health supplement.
It’s important to support the mechanical drainage of the ear and sinuses, which can be done through massage around the ears, nose and forehead, 2-3 times a day. This approach can be quite effective.
- Poison oak and poison ivy: These plants are rich in oils that produce allergic reactions in many people. Reactions are typically seen in the form of a weepy oozing rash, itching, redness and swelling, and can range from mild to life threatening, depending on the person. If severe allergic reaction occurs, such as immediate swelling or blockage of the air passage, emergency medical attention is critical. For most people however, the reaction is less intense but still uncomfortable, and can last up to 2 weeks. The reason reactions tend to be worse in the summer is that the heat causes pores to open and allows the oils to spread more easily, which is why cold water rinses are important after exposure, rather than a hot shower. Also, people tend to spend more time out in nature during warmer months and are therefore more at risk of exposure. Treatments can include topical creams containing zinc oxide and ferric oxide such as the classic “calamine lotion” which helps to reduce itching and also acts as a mild astringent to prevent spreading, reduce infection, and dry out the rash. The herb Grindelia (Gum weed) has shown benefits when applied topically as an herbal infusion. Green clay and/or oatmeal, salt, or baking soda are also used to draw out the oils, dry the rash, and help reduce inflammation and itching.
- Bee, wasp, and hornet stings: Bees, wasps and hornets gather near sources of fresh water such as pools, lakes and swimming holes, where people also congregate during the heat of summer. It’s easy to get stung while swimming or walking near these areas. While bee stings can be painful and annoying for a few days, some individuals are extremely allergic to them. In fact, some people can die from one bee sting, and these people often carry an EpiPen® (epinephrine) with them in case they get stung and go into shock. Often the first reaction is to put your hand right away on the sting, in response to the pain. But this is the wrong thing to do, because the sac that holds the venom is at the top of the stinger, and if you put pressure on the sting with your hand, you’ve pushed most of the venom into your skin. What you want to do is get a pair of tweezers or forceps and pull the stinger out from the top, to avoid releasing more venom into your body.One of the first things to do after you get stung and you’ve removed the stinger is to apply something which can absorb the venom. Again, salt is very useful for this. Pack fine sea salt into the sting and it will help to pull the venom out of the skin. Other drying agents will pull out the venom, such as bentonite clay, or baking soda. Ointments such as arnica gel or Traumeel® gel, calendula balm and others will help to sooth and reduce inflammation.
- Heat rash: Heat rash is a reddish rash usually caused when sweat ducts are blocked by constrictive clothing. The sweat ducts swell and can become itchy, but in prolonged cases, it can lead to a more serious infection and may spread to lymph nodes or other areas. If fever, swollen lymph nodes or pus in the affected areas are present, be sure to call your doctor right away. First line treatments: remove clothing, get out of the heat or sun, and let the skin air dry. Again, the same topical remedies for poison oak/poison ivy and bug bits can also help to alleviate the rash. Chinese herbs such as Ce Bai Ye (Platycladus orientalis), as well as menthol and camphor are good topical choices to cool the area, reduce pain and decrease inflammation.
With all that nature has to offer this season, especially the wealth of fresh fruits and vegetables, summer may be our best time of year for promoting overall health and wellness. Staying smart with a few health precautions can help ensure we get the most out of this season of warmth and joy.