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Summer can be a time for rest, excitement, and long days of outdoor fun, but it also ushers in some seasonal health risks. Taking simple precautions can keep these at bay and make summer more enjoyable and safe.

Along with sunny days, warm weather, and more outdoor activities, summer brings with it the risk of sunburn, allergies, bug bites, and other potential problems that may affect our health.

In this article, we share some tips for enjoying a healthy and illness-free summer.

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Stay active while the sun is out.

Summer can be a great time for people to engage in more physical activity and improve their fitness.

Longer days and summer vacations offer extra opportunities for leisure activities that can boost our health, too.

Even so, in places where summer temperatures soar, staying indoors with the air conditioning on can be tempting.

In very hot weather, however, the early morning and late afternoon can be perfect times to get outdoors and take a stroll.

Examples of some of the outdoor leisure activities people might choose to boost their physical activity in the summer include:

  • going for a walk or long-distance hike
  • visiting a zoo or other outdoor recreation center
  • exploring a nature reserve or park
  • biking along the ocean or through the forest
  • jogging or swimming

Most of us know that physical activity can promote and improve our mental health, prevent or fight obesity, enhance fitness, and improve our sleep quality.

Also, being active is thought to reduce the risk of several cancers, heart problems, and the skin condition psoriasis, as well as improve cognition in children and older adults.

Before heading outdoors, however, people must ensure they protect their health against some familiar summertime hazards.

Sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D, and people need a small amount of sun exposure every day to stay healthy. Nevertheless, too much UV light from the sun can be hazardous, contributing to skin damage and cancer risk.

UVA and UVB are the two different forms of sunlight in the atmosphere.

UVA rays penetrate deep into people’s skin, damaging the connective tissues and blood vessels. Excess UVA exposure may lead to a loss of elasticity, wrinkles, and premature aging of people’s skin.

In contrast, UVB rays do not reach a deep layer of skin. However, they cause the redness and immediate skin damage that people associate with sunburn.

The American Cancer Society estimate that there were 3 million new cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States in 2012, the most recent data available.

Crucially, in 2019, experts estimate that 96,480 people will receive a diagnosis of melanoma, a more serious skin cancer.

Many skin cancers can develop from overexposure to UVA rays, and medical professionals are still researching the exact reasons for this. One theory is that UVA rays may lead to oxidative stress.

This state within the body is an imbalance between the free radical molecules that contribute to disease and the antioxidants that protect the body.

To protect the skin from UVA rays, people can choose to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. The product a person picks should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 50.

SPF indicates how long the sun will take to burn the skin. SPF 50 means that burning would take 50 minutes if a person applies the sunscreen correctly and that it only allows 2 percent of UVA and UVB rays to get through.

People with a higher risk of skin cancer should use sunscreen with a higher SPF.

People of all skin types must make sure to reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating.

Wearing protective clothing and staying in the shade are also effective ways to reduce the risk of sunburn.

Sunscreen is available in pharmacies and drugstores, and there is a wide range available for purchase online.

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Staying hydrated is vital in high temperatures.

In hot weather, staying hydrated is vital to replenish the fluids that the body loses through sweating

Drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine are not effective against dehydration. In fact, they can increase the body’s fluid output, making it harder for someone to stay properly hydrated.

Signs of dehydration include:

People must avoid dehydration as it can lead to a number of dangerous complications, such as kidney damage, kidney failure, and shock.

Heat exhaustion in sweltering weather may cause a person to have the following symptoms:

  • cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
  • heavy sweating
  • faintness
  • dizziness, nausea, and headache
  • fatigue
  • weak, rapid pulse, and low blood pressure on standing
  • muscle cramps
  • headache

Anyone experiencing heat exhaustion must stop and rest, shelter out of the sun and in a cool place, and drink plenty of water or sports drinks.

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke, a condition that can be fatal.

Heatstroke occurs when body temperature rises above 104ºF, and the body can no longer cool itself. It is a medical emergency and can lead to death.

The following can help reduce the risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke:

  • wearing lightweight clothing
  • avoiding direct sunlight
  • using air conditioning
  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding heavy meals

Seizures can occur if a person’s body does not have enough of the chemical’s scientists call electrolytes.

Electrolytes send electrical signals between cells. When electrolyte levels become too low, these signals do not work correctly. An electrolyte imbalance can lead to the involuntary muscle contractions that occur with seizures.

Cerebral edema might also occur when a person drinks after being dehydrated.

The body sends water to the cells after it enters the digestive system. However, this reaction can send too much, causing cells to swell and rupture. If this occurs in the brain, it can be extremely dangerous.

When people are exercising, it is sensible always to carry a drinking bottle with water. Rehydration fluids are available from drugstores and pharmacies. There is also a wide range available to purchase online.

People can check any instructions before using rehydration fluids and ask a doctor to recommend a safe and suitable rehydration fluid for their needs.

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Applying bug spray can help keep biting insects at bay.

Insect stings are responsible for more than 500,000 emergency room visits every year in the U.S., according to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

Insects that sting during the summer include bees, yellowjackets, wasps, and hornets.

A person who spends a lot of time outdoors, especially in warmer climates, can use insect repellent that contains DEET. DEET is a substance that hides human scent from biting insects.

While the duration of DEET’s protective effect increases at higher concentrations, strengths above 50 percent carry no extra protective benefit.

DEET with a strength of 30 percent protects for 4–6 hours.

Picaridin is another effective repellent, as well as permethrin, which people can apply directly to clothing to help prevent insect bites.

According to the Wasps and Sting Prevention website, insect repellent is unlikely to deter wasps, but those containing DEET may have some effect in repelling them.

Bites and stings can lead to allergic reactions and infections.

Tips from the NPMA to prevent insect stings include the following

  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • Throw out garbage as often as possible.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes all the time.
  • Avoid using too much fragrance.
  • Avoid wearing dark colors or floral prints that may attract wasps.
  • Contact a licensed pest professional to deal with bug infestations.

If an insect bites a person who then experiences an allergic reaction, the individual must seek medical help immediately.

Typically, when an insect bites a human, removing the stinger and washing the area with soap and water can help to reduce swelling, itching, and pain.

Applying an ice pack or cold cloth and taking ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain reliever may also ease any discomfort that an insect bite causes. An antihistamine, such as Benadryl, may reduce the itching and swelling.

Backyard barbecues, sweets, and proteins can attract yellowjackets, wasps, and hornets.

The sting of these insects are no more dangerous than those of other stinging insects, but they tend to sting repeatedly. This type of repeated attack can pose a serious threat to both adults and children.

A range of insect repellent products is available for purchase online and in drugstores and pharmacies.

Both heat and fire can be risk factors for people when they are otherwise enjoying summer activities outdoors.

Dr. Roger Yurt, director of the Hearst Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center, gives a list of safety tips to reduce the risk of heat- and fire-related accidents during the summer break.

He recommends the following safety measures:

  • Keeping barbecues far away from anything else that may be flammable. Checking the grill for leaks, dents, or cracks, and lighting the match before turning on the gas.
  • At fireworks displays for summer celebrations, such as Independence Day, staying at least 500 feet away from the fireworks display. Keeping children away from used fireworks or sparklers.
  • If the car radiator overheats, waiting until the engine cools right down before removing the cap.

To conclude, staying healthy during the hot summer weather while still having plenty of fun requires only careful preparation and awareness.

People only have to remember to stay safe in the sunshine, stay hydrated, and keep bite-free whenever possible.

Q:

I experience seasonal affective disorder, and while my mood is great during the summer, I dread the winter and its accompanying emotional problems. How do I smooth over the transition between summer and winter and prepare myself mentally?

A:

Seasonal affective disorder can be difficult to manage and there are several interventions that your doctor can use to help you mentally and emotionally prepare for the seasonal transitions.

These can include light therapy, antidepressants, or psychotherapy. You may also want to try making your environment sunnier and brighter, getting outside for extended periods, and exercising regularly.

Sadness is a normal emotion to experience but, if at any point, you feel overwhelmed or are sad for days at a time, understand that help is available, and you should schedule an appointment your doctor.

Vincent J. Tavella, MPH Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.