With summer officially under way, here are handy seasonal tips for avoiding and taking care of some common warm weather illnesses, injuries and conditions.
Swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear canal. Water becomes trapped in the ear and bacteria overgrow, causing a painful inflammation. Try to get all the water out of your ears after swimming, and consult your physician ASAP if you develop ear pain or a discharge from the ear.
Bug and tick bites
Bug and tick bites can cause summer rashes, and in the case of a deer tick bite, Lyme disease. Most insect bites are more annoying than harmful, and the itching can be managed with over-the-counter antihistamines. Don't scratch, as bites can become infected from breaks in the skin, requiring antibiotics. Following any exposure to a wooded or grassy area, inspect yourself and pets for possible tick bites. Deer ticks are tiny and may be hard to spot, so look carefully. Lyme disease can result in a circular red rash that looks like a bulls-eye, but only in half the cases; any round, blotchy, red rash in summertime should be evaluated. Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics.
Sunburn results from an overexposure of skin to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Regularly and frequently apply sunscreen, and wear a hat whenever you will be out in the sun -- or even on an extended car trip. The pain of sunburn can be treated with aspirin or ibuprofen, as well as moisturizers. Avoid sunburns at all costs -- they increase your future risk of skin cancer and prematurely age your skin.
Poison ivy is a toxic plant, the leaves of which are covered with an oil that causes an itchy, red, blistering rash of varying severity, depending on an individual's sensitivity to exposure. The first step in managing poison ivy is avoiding it, so be familiar with its appearance if you are planning outdoor activities in wooded areas. If you or a family member develops an itchy rash after an outing, make sure you wash all skin surfaces, including under fingernails, as well as launder all clothing and shoes with soap and water to remove the irritating oils and prevent further spread. Antihistamines and hydrocortisone cream can be used to treat the itch -- but if the poison ivy is widespread or severe, a prescription from your doctor for oral anti-inflammatory steroids may be indicated.
Heat illness is a spectrum of conditions ranging from mild symptoms from heat exhaustion to heat stroke, in which there is a failure of your body's ability to regulate temperature, causing damage to your cardiovascular and central nervous systems from overheating.
The first three recommendations are to drink, drink and drink (water and/or sports drinks, that is). Staying well hydrated on hot summer days is key. Avoid alcoholic, carbonated and caffeinated beverages, as these can increase the likelihood of dehydration and interfere with body temperature regulation. On days where heat and humidity are high, stay indoors in an air-conditioned or shaded, fan-cooled room as much as possible. If you exercise regularly and the outdoor temperature is above 80 degrees, try to exercise indoors with air conditioning or limit your outdoor fitness activities to the early morning or late afternoon during the cooler, shadier parts of the day.
If you do start to feel faint, nauseated or have a headache, these might be the first signs or symptoms of heat-related illness. Go indoors to an air conditioned building -- or into the shade if AC isn't available -- and drink a cool beverage. The objective is to avoid progressing to heat stroke, which requires a trip to the ER and hospitalization.
-- Mark Melrose, DO, is a board-certified emergency physician at Urgent Care Manhattan. E-mail him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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