Summertime is the best time of the year for many people, especially kids. After all, what’s not to love about long days, warm weather, no school and maybe take a family vacation? Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians want you and your family to enjoy your summer, and that starts with keeping everyone safe and healthy.
North Texas is exceptionally hot in the summer, especially in July and August. “If you’re spending time outdoors in the summer months, it’s important to take some basic precautions” says Dr. Charles Ewoh, a hospitalist and internal medicine physician. “It’s easy to get dehydrated or even suffer heat exhaustion”
Heat exhaustion occurs when a person loses too much water and salt from their bodies, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, heavy sweating and shallow breathing. If you experience symptoms such as these, get to a cool area (preferably inside) and drink plenty of water or other fluids, as long as they’re not carbonated or alcoholic. Applying a cool cloth or taking a cool bath can also aid recovery from heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke is even more dangerous. Heat stroke occurs when the body gets extremely overheated and is unable to regulate its internal temperature. A person suffering from heat stroke can quickly reach a temperature of up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of heat stroke include hallucinations, chills and dry, hot skin. If you think someone may be suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately and get the person to a cool area and soak them in cool water.
Drinking plenty of water, along with wearing loose-fitting and light-colored clothing (light colors reflect sunlight, whereas dark colors absorb it) are two of the most important things you can do to avoid heat-related illnesses in the summer. And be mindful of how long you’ve been outdoors; don’t overdo it with physical activity and stay in the shade whenever possible.
Protect Your Skin
The heat isn’t the only reason to stay in the shade. The sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause sunburn almost immediately, causing skin to redden and become painful and itchy. More problematic, sustained sun exposure can damage the skin’s cells over the long term and lead to cancer of the skin, which is the most common type of cancer among both women and men in the United States.
There are two types of UV rays – UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate the skin and are responsible for premature aging signs, such as wrinkles and spots. UVB rays primarily affect the surface of the skin, causing sunburn. Anyone who spends time in the sun is susceptible to skin cancer, but that’s especially true of fair-skinned people.
“The ultraviolet light in the sun’s rays damages the skin, resulting in accelerated aging, wrinkles and potentially skin cancers,” explains Dr. Ben Gbulie, a plastic surgeon. “The most important step in protecting your skin from these changes is the use of a broad spectrum sun screen that is SPF 20 or higher.”
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The higher the SPF, the more protection the sunscreen provides, but an SPF of 60 is not twice as protective as an SPF of 30.
“Sunscreen with Zinc should be reapplied every two hours and upon getting out of the water,” says Dr. Jesse Smith, a facial plastic surgeon. “And if you’ve got some sunscreen in the cabinet from last summer, just check the expiration date before you use it. When sunscreen goes out of date, it will not work as effectively – get rid of it and replace it.” Finally, wear a hat with a brim that will shade your face, ears and neck and protect your eyes with sunglasses that provide UV protection.
West Nile & Zika
Usually, mosquitos are simply annoying – when they bite us, we experience an itching and stinging sensation for a while. However, mosquitos can also carry viruses, including West Nile and Zika, two diseases for which there is no cure yet. Because these viruses can seriously affect human health, it’s important to guard against mosquito bites.
Most people who are infected with West Nile virus never know it, as the virus usually produces no symptoms. In about 20 percent of cases, West Nile virus can cause body aches, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting and rash. While these symptoms do typically subside, fatigue can continue for a few months.
In less than one percent of West Nile cases, serious neurological illness, such as meningitis or encephalitis, can result. Permanent brain damage is possible in these cases and around 10 percent of people who get this form of West Nile will die as a result. People over the age of 60 are most at risk.
As is the case with West Nile, many people who are infected with Zika will experience no symptoms at all. When Zika does cause symptoms, they are relatively mild: fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) and headache are typical. These symptoms can last for up to one week.
Zika virus poses the greatest danger to women who are pregnant or may become pregnant – the virus has been determined to cause serious birth defects, so expectant mothers must take special care to protect themselves from Zika.
Fortunately, most areas of the United States, including North Texas, have never experienced a Zika outbreak. If you are planning to travel to another country this summer, check the CDC for updated Zika travel alerts, especially if pregnant. For more information on Zika and how it is transmitted, see our previous article on the virus.
To protect your family from mosquitos and the illnesses they can carry, do not allow standing water near your house. Mosquitos love to breed in stagnant water, so be sure to eliminate any empty pots and containers from your yard and fill in any low spots that do not drain well.
When outdoors, protect yourself from mosquito bites by using an insect repellent with DEET, which has proven effective at repelling the types of mosquitos known to carry West Nile and Zika virus. “Apply insect repellent to any exposed skin, such as your arms and legs,” says Dr. Lynne Tilkin, a primary care physician. “Additionally, spray some into the palm of your hand and then rub it into your face for maximum protection.”
Some insect repellents also provide protection against ticks, which can carry Lyme disease and other illnesses. Protection from ticks, in addition to mosquitos, is important if your family’s summer plans include camping or hiking in the woods. The CDC recommends utilizing the Environmental Protection Agency’s online tool to identify the insect repellents that best suit your needs.
Stay Safe Outdoors
For many families, summer is the time to go camping or visit the beach. A brush with poison ivy or encounter with a jellyfish can turn a fun trip into a miserable experience, so take these precautions:
Three Leaves = Bad News
If you’re going hiking or camping, take the time to learn what poison ivy looks like and be sure to avoid it. The allergic reaction the plant’s oil causes when it comes into contact with human skin is nothing short of agonizing. While it’s not a serious threat to one’s health, it can make you miserable. Less common in Texas are poison oak and poison sumac – both of these plants produce reactions similar to poison ivy. If you do come in contact with one of these plants, the best treatment is to wash the affected area with cool water and use calamine lotion to relieve itching.
There are two types of poisonous spiders in the United States and both are present in Texas: the brown recluse and black widow. A bite from one of these spiders causes intense pain, redness and swelling and can lead to skin necrosis, in which the cells in the skin begin to die. If you’ve suffered a bite that is producing unusually painful or long-lasting reactions, get to a doctor or hospital right away. Venomous spider bites can be treated with oral and intravenous antibiotics. Minimize your chances of spider bites by taking precautions in heavily wooded areas, such as wearing long clothing and close-toed shoes.
Look out for Jellyfish
For many families, summer is not complete without a trip to the beach. Watch where you step when you’re walking through the sand, however. If you step on a jellyfish, you’ll have a painful and possibly dangerous experience. Most jellyfish stings result in immediate pain and reddening of the skin. If stung by a jellyfish, remove any tentacles that become embedded in the skin and wash the affected area with seawater. Rinsing the area with vinegar can also help to deactivate any stingers that were dislodged. Finally, soak the affected area in water for a few minutes. In rare cases, a jellyfish sting can cause a systemic reaction and require immediate medical attention.
Some of the most common accidents in the summer involve the water. Never leave children unattended in the water, whether it’s at the pool or the lake. It can take only a minute for a child to slip underwater and drown.
If you’re out boating on the lake, have fun – but remember, alcohol and water do not mix. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, alcohol plays a role in one-half of all boating accidents. Furthermore, the same rules that apply to driving also apply to boating in Texas: if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 of higher, you can be charged with boating while intoxicated.
Lifejackets are also a must if you’re in a boat. Texas law requires that every boat has one life jacket for each person on board and that all children under the age of 13 wear a life jacket at all times (in a boat less than 26 feet long).
Another common and completely avoidable accident involves fireworks. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 10,000 firework-related injuries occur each year, and the impact of these injuries are far too often life-changing.
“It wouldn’t be the Fourth of July without fireworks, but remember fireworks are inherently dangerous” says Dr. Brian Tobias, an orthopedic hand surgeon. “Please don’t manufacture, purchase or set off fireworks yourself; leave it to the professionals and enjoy the show. There are too many stories of people being burned or losing an eye or a finger to fireworks – don’t take the chance.”
Have a Happy Summer
The summer months should be fun, enjoyable and hopefully a time to create good memories with your family and friends. By taking a few precautions and using some common sense, you can avoid having to spend part of your summer at the doctor’s office or a hospital.
Have a great summer!
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