We normally associate illness with winter, mainly because it’s the time of year we tend to get colds and flu.
However, there is no shortage of ailments and conditions that make life unpleasant and spoil our fun during the summer months.
The following are examples of health issues associated with summer:
1. Food poisoning
According to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control), every year around 3 000 Americans die from foodborne diseases.
Warm weather encourages bacteria to multiply, and who doesn’t enjoy barbeques and picnics during summer? Food that is prepared in advance and allowed to stand in the heat creates the perfect conditions for contamination and food poisoning.
Read: Food poisoning
Pre-prepared food should be handled hygienically, stored safely and kept cool if possible. It’s also better to choose foods that don’t spoil as easily or can be freshly prepared at your destination.
NHS Choices explains that most cases of food poisoning can be treated at home and do not require medical advice, and that most people will feel better in a matter of days. It is however important to replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.
If symptoms are severe, you may need to be admitted to hospital for a few days and given intravenous hydration.
2. Heat rash
Heat rash is a red or pink rash usually found on areas of the body that are covered with clothing. It happens during hot humid conditions and is most common in children. Heat rash develops when sweat ducts become blocked and swell up, looking like dots or tiny pimples on the skin. It often causes discomfort and itching.
Heat rash usually heals on its own in a matter of days and doesn’t require medical attention. In some cases the rash gets infected with symptoms like pain, swelling and pus. If this happens, be sure to contact your doctor.
3. Water-borne conditions
We all like to spend time in the water during summer, and Dennis Maki, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, warns of the risk of bacterial infections and other water-borne illnesses as a result of taking part in recreational water activities.
Read: Bacterial infections
Maki adds that apart from natural bodies of water like rivers and lakes, pools and hot tubs can also be sources of gastrointestinal problems; skin, ear and eye infections; and respiratory, neurological and viral problems. The safest places to swim are pools that are regularly checked for their chlorine levels.
4. Summer colds
There is a kind of virus that produces cold-like symptoms, which tends to rear its ugly head during the summer months. It is called enterovirus and can cause more complicated symptoms than the typical winter cold.
According to Merck Manual, symptoms of a summer cold caused by enterovirus include fever, headache, and sore throat, and sometimes mouth sores or a rash. Treatment is basically aimed at relieving symptoms.
An unfortunate result of summer activities that involve spending a lot of time in the hot sun can be a spitting headache. A survey by the National Headache Foundation indicates that headache sufferers consider summer to be the worst time of year for headaches.
As the temperature goes up, so does your risk for getting a headache. One theory is that the heat makes blood vessels in your head expand, causing them to press against nerve endings. Dehydration and strenuous exercise in hot weather can also lead to headaches.
Read: Can weather cause headaches?
An over-the-counter painkiller will usually alleviate headaches caused by heat exposure and exercise, and drinking enough water should take care of a dehydration headache.
6. Heat stroke
Heat stroke or hyperthermia results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures. It can happen for example when children are left in hot cars during summer.
Emedicinehealth defines heat stroke as a condition where the body’s cooling mechanisms are overcome by heat, resulting in a core heat of over 40°C. Heat stroke is preceded by signs of heat exhaustion like headaches, dizziness and weakness, and results in unconsciousness, organ failure and eventually death.
Hyperthermia is primarily treated by outside cooling of the body with the help of water, cold air or ice packs. Internal cooling by flushing the stomach or rectum with cold may also be used. Persons with hyperthermia need to be hospitalised in order to be tested for complications like muscle breakdown, which can damage the kidneys.
With summer comes the danger of sunburn, which can be extremely serious. Sunburn is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun that damage your skin cells. The risk of damage depends on things like the time of day, the amount of time spent in the sun and if you use sun protection or not.
Read: Sunburn now, cancer later
Sunburn can lead to long-term skin damage and even skin cancer. MedicineNet.com explains that there are three major kinds of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma (most common type)
- Squamous cell carcinoma (second most common)
- Melanoma (less common but considerably more dangerous)
The best and simplest way to avoid sunburn is to stay out of the sun. Other ways to be sun-safe is to stay out of the midday sun, stay in the shade, use a good sunscreen and wear a hat and protective clothing.
Managing summer headache risks
Beware of dehydration this summer