Caution – Summer Ahead!

Jun 1, 2024 | Featured, Health

As the summer graces us with its warmth, it’s essential to be mindful of the potential health hazards of Arkansas summers. From heat-related illnesses to pesky bites and sunburns, the summer season can present health challenges. Education and awareness can help prevent illness, allowing summer-long fun.

HEAT STROKE AND EXHAUSTION
Heat-related illnesses can occur while working or participating in summer recreation. Heat stroke is the most severe. During a heat stroke, the body can no longer regulate body temperature, sweat, or cool down, resulting in a rapidly rising temperature – up to 106 degrees or higher in a medical emergency. Symptoms include confusion, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. Without treatment, permanent brain damage or death can occur. Heat exhaustion presents with dizziness, increased thirst, nausea, weakness, and profuse sweating. Extended heat exposure increases the risk of heat stroke and exhaustion, particularly for the young and elderly.

One of the best ways to prevent heat-related illnesses is to hydrate. Drinking water and sports drinks is better than caffeinated drinks as caffeine is a natural diuretic. A good indication of your hydration status is your urine output. When your urine resembles clear water, you’re effectively replenishing fluids. Other ways to prevent heat-related illnesses: plan activities during cooler times of the day; take frequent breaks; stay in shaded areas; wear wide-brim hats/loose, light-colored lightweight clothing; apply sunscreen.

SWIMMER’S EAR 
Swimmer’s ear symptoms can include sudden onset of ear pain, itching, fullness, drainage from the ear canal, and occasional hearing loss. Differentiating an inner ear infection from an outer ear infection involves applying pressure to the cartilage outside the ear canal or pulling on the upper outer ear to provoke pain.

More than 90% of cases stem from bacterial sources. Therefore, a prescription, commonly antibiotic ear drops, may be needed. To prevent swimmer’s ear, wear bath caps or earplugs, dry your ears after swimming, drain the water by tilting your head back and forth, or use a hair dryer to dry the canals.

CONTACT DERMATITIS
Enjoying nature increases your chances of encountering poison ivy and poison oak. These plants contain urushiol, an oily compound which can lead to allergic reactions, including skin irritation, itching, redness, swelling, and, in severe cases, blistering. Avoiding contact is critical, and contrary to many beliefs, rashes caused by these plants are not contagious or transmissible. It is vital to remove the oil with soap and water from the skin, tools, clothing, and pets as soon as possible.

If a rash appears, topical soaks using cool tap water, oatmeal baths, emollients, zinc oxide, corticosteroids, and calamine lotions can provide relief. Over-the-counter antihistamines may also provide relief. If these measures do not control symptoms, seek medical care. These rashes can lead to secondary infections, which require medical treatment.

INSECT BITES
Bites from ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes are significant nuisances, and prevention can be challenging.

Ticks: Conduct a full body check after being outside and remove ticks within twenty-four hours of attachment to decrease the risk of tick-borne diseases. While it takes four to six hours to spread the infection, not all ticks carry disease. The most common tick-borne illness in Arkansas is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Symptoms of a tick-borne disease include the classic bull’s eye rash associated with fever, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue, and should be treated by a medical professional.

Chiggers: Chiggers are tiny mites whose bites can cause itching. Bites can occur several days after exposure. These bites present as itchy red bumps with multiple bumps across an area and resemble pimples, blisters, or small hives. Washing after exposure with warm soap and water can remove chiggers and prevent intense itching.

Mosquitos: Mosquito bites cause raised, red, itchy bumps to appear after a bite. Topicals and antihistamines can provide symptom relief. Monitoring the bite for possible secondary infection is essential.

Strategies for prevention: Wear loose-fitting long pants tucked into socks and long-sleeved shirts; apply DEET-based repellents to the skin; apply permethrin-containing insecticides to clothing and gear to repel ticks (note: do not apply directly to the skin, as it is a synthetic insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum plant).

SUNBURNS
Preventing sunburns requires more than just applying and reapplying sunscreen. Consider the following when selecting an appropriate SPF (Sun Protection Factor). Fair-skinned individuals may require higher SPF levels than those with darker skin tones. Extended time outdoors or activities with intense sun exposure require a higher SPF. SPF 30 is great for everyday use, but those with fair or sensitive skin or those spending prolonged time outdoors should consider SPF 50 or higher. Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against UVA rays, which can contribute to skin aging and lead to skin cancer, as well as UVB rays. If swimming or sweating, use a water-resistant sunscreen and reapply every two hours. If you have specific concerns about sun protection or skin conditions, consult a dermatologist for personalized recommendations.

Preventing sunburns is crucial as damage can be long-lasting and lead to skin cancer. Cool baths and moisturizers such as aloe vera can help, and ibuprofen can help with inflammation. Stay hydrated and avoid popping blisters, which can increase the risk of infection.

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Being prepared in advance will help you enjoy the season, but sometimes, our best attempts do not deter illness; seeking care from a primary care provider for the best outcomes is always advised.

Phillips Medical Clinic is conveniently located at 613 Lexington Avenue, in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
479.242.9797   I   PhillipsMedicalClinic.com

WORDS Jacqueline Phillips, APRN, Phillips Medical Clinic, Fort Smith
IMAGE LeManna/Shutterstock

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