Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Health Care and Summer Time

During June, July, and August, most Americans go on vacations or work on a variety of projects that can be done outside. There's nothing like the classic road trip, in the family car or van with the kids and pets, headed out for a great time. Whether you are going to visit family or friends, traveling during the summer can be lots of fun. It pays to be prepared before you go, and to be careful while you are away. If you are staying home, those tasks you take on should be handled safely and with a game plan. Nothing says "job well done" like a project that is completed without accident.

Traveling or working during the summer is great, but with the heat that comes during these months, you should take preventive methods to avoid any health issues that can be brought on by exposure to the sun and high temperatures. The same principle applies when you are traveling. Be careful when it's hot. According to, staying healthy during the summer months requires more than just eating the right foods. Below is a partial list of things to do that will help you stay cool and healthy during the hot summer months:

--Drink plenty of water. It is very important to drink water. Your body needs water to prevent dehydration during warm summer days. Take special care to make sure infants and toddlers drink enough water. They can become dehydrated much more easily than adults.
--If you have asthma or other respiratory problems, keep a careful watch on the daily air quality reports. Also, don't forget to take your inhaler or other medication with you when you go out.
--Take a rest or nap. Don't push yourself beyond your physical limits.
--Wear Sunscreen. Sunburn is painful and unhealthy. Use a sunscreen that is right for your skin.
--Stay Cool. Wear light, loose-fitting clothing to help you stay cooler.
--Wear Sunglasses. Sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun's UV rays.
--Maintain your energy level by limiting your intake of fat and sugar; focus on carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.
--Before leaving for vacation pack a few items (calamine lotion, baking soda) that will help with itchy or painful insect bites.
--If you have allergies and plan to be traveling/vacationing, find out which plants will be pollinating in your vacation spot
--Know your body. If you are feeling ill, see a doctor. An average of 400 people die each year in the United States due to extreme heat.

No matter what summertime activity you choose to participate in - some fun and games with family or friends at the park, a refreshing swim, or a backyard barbecue - those hot and humid days can take a toll on you physically, as well as present some hidden dangers. According to, here are some tips on how you can manage the heat and keep cool during the dog days of summer:
--The risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke rises along with the temperature and humidity. Heat illnesses occur when the body's cooling mechanism becomes overloaded. When the heat starts to rise - slow down. Regardless of your activity level, drink more fluids - your body needs water to prevent dehydration during warm summer days. Stay away from liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar. Stay indoors or in shaded locations; wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing; and limit your outdoor activity to morning or evening hours when it is cooler outside.
--Summer time means fun in the sun, and plenty of fun and games in the water - but did you know that germs could contaminate swimming water? Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are spread by swimming in contaminated recreational waters such as: pools, water parks, lakes, and the ocean. Germs causing RWIs can be killed by chlorine, but it doesn't work right away. It takes time to kill germs, and some are resistant to chlorine and can live in pools for days.
--No matter what time of the year, more and more people are cooking outdoors. But outdoor cooking during the summer seems to pose a few extra challenges - leaving food out for just a short period of time under the hot sun can result in harmful bacteria rapidly multiplying and it increases the chance of getting foodborne illness.

According to, summer is a great time to build up your fitness program, enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, take a vacation, and have fun. It’s also a time to pay attention to your health and safety. Sun protection is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach. Take steps to help prevent skin cancer and other conditions. Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable, yet many people succumb to extreme heat each year. Take steps to lower your risk for heat-related illness. Also, be careful around fireworks. Males are injured by fireworks about three times as often as females. About 47% (nearly half) of persons injured from fireworks are young people under twenty years of age. Injuries are most commonly associated with fire-crackers, sparklers, and bottle rockets. And, men are at increased risk for some injuries and conditions. Motor vehicle traffic, poisonings, drownings, and falls are the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths for males ages 15-44. Men take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of women and represent 79% of all U.S. suicides. When you are driving on your vacation, be careful and observe the rules of the road. Drivers and passengers can cut their risk of dying in a crash by half simply by buckling up. The summer is a great time to play outdoor games, garden, or walk. Start a new routine that combines fun and physical activity. Active people are less likely than inactive people to be obese or to have high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, coronary artery disease and stroke, depression, colon cancer, and premature death.

On a lighter side, there are many summer time myths that have been told and re-told generation after generation. According to, as children, most everyone heard lots of health advice. Unfortunately, some of it, however well-intentioned, was medically incorrect. See if you've ever heard - or believed - any of these common summer health myths:

1.) "Wait a half hour after eating before you can safely go swimming." This one seemed almost universally accepted and is still believed today. The myth involves the possibility of suffering severe muscle cramping and drowning from swimming on a full stomach. While it's true that the digestive process does divert the circulation of the blood toward the gut and to a certain extent, away from the muscles, the fact is that an episode of drowning caused by swimming on a full stomach has never been documented. Neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the American Red Cross makes any specific recommendations about waiting any amount of time after eating before taking a swim. There's a theoretical possibility that one could develop a cramp while swimming with a full stomach, but a person swimming in a pool or controlled swimming area could easily exit the water if this happens. As with any exercise after eating, swimming right after a big meal might be uncomfortable, but it won't cause you to drown.

2.) "Sunburn will fade into a tan," or "You need to burn first before you start to tan." Sunburn is a burn and not a prerequisite stage for a tan. Sunburn will result in skin damage, redness, and eventual peeling. Any amount of sun exposure poses an increased risk for the development of skin cancers and premature aging, but sunburn poses an even stronger risk.

3.) "Dark-skinned people don't need sunscreen." People with lighter skins have less melanin, the pigment that absorbs UV radiation and protects skin, than darker-skinned people. While light-skinned people will be very sensitive to the effects of UV rays from the sun, those with darker skins can still be affected by damaging UV radiation. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends routine sunscreen use (with an SPF of at least 15) for dark-skinned people.

4.) Finally, there's the watermelon-seed myth. No, the seeds won't germinate and grow in your stomach if you swallow them. There is a very small risk of damage to the intestine (inflammation, obstruction, or a wound or tear in the bowel) from swallowing any small, sharp object such as a seed. A watermelon or other type of seed could potentially lodge inside the appendix and lead to appendicitis, but this is very unlikely to happen. The benefits of including fruit in your diet far outweigh any risks associated with swallowing seeds.

The American Heart Association has some tips to help you stay active, safe and heart healthy when it’s hot outside. You can stay active and beat the heat by:
--Going to a gym for a nice, cool environment with a variety of activities.
--Visiting your favorite local swimming hole or taking swimming lessons at a pool.
--Starting a walking group with your friends at the mall.
--Taking up an indoor sport, such as racquetball, basketball or volleyball, or taking an aerobics class.
--Going ice skating.
If you exercise outside when it’s hot and humid, wear light, comfortable clothing and work out in the early morning or late evening. Know the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you experience symptoms, stop exercising and cool down immediately by dousing yourself with cold water. You may need medical attention. Heat exhaustion can progress quickly to heat stroke, which can kill you.

Headed to a family reunion this summer? Reunions are a wonderful way to stay connected, and to learn about your family heritage and traditions, according to the American Heart Association. It's also a great time to inform and remind family members that stroke is a major health threat; and if your parent, grandparent, brother or sister has had a stroke, your risk of having one is greater. Headed to the pool, lake or ocean this summer? Make sure you’re prepared. Drowning is a leading cause of death in infants, children and adolescents. Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) so you can act quickly to prevent drowning.

Whatever your summer time activities, always remember to be safe. Whether traveling or at home, your medical needs and personal health care situation always are more important than skipping safety just to have fun. Remember to check with your doctor before you leave if you are going out of town. Your family physician should be able to work with you if you need extra medications or special arrangements for any health care concerns if you plan to be gone for an extended period of time during the summer. Also, you may wish to consult your pharmacist if you need to have medicine refills while you are away. They can consult with you on getting prescriptions filled if you plan to be traveling for more than 30 days away from home. Then, go have a good time. If you are staying home for the summer, chill out between projects. Learn to take those outside fix-its one step at a time so you don't stress out, have an accident, or overheat.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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