Memorial Day is upon us — the start of summer. Whether you plan to spend the summer in your own back yard or traveling the world, there are a number of precautions to take to avoid having your fun disrupted by health problems.
Summer means sun, and the experts tell us that even those who tan are subject to the long-term premature aging and wrinkling that excess exposure can cause. And of course, too much sun increases the risk of several skin cancers — including the potentially lethal melanoma. So protect your skin by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, one that protects against both UVA and UVB types of sunlight since both can damage the skin. And be sure that children are adequately protected. Some authorities recommend an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 for everyone, and especially for children.
While we typically think of the skin when addressing sun exposure, the eyes need protection too, since excess sunlight can increase the risk of cataracts. Choose sunglasses that block 99 percent to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB sunlight.
Remember that exercising on hot days increases your need for water and your risk of overheating. Drink plenty of liquids and take “cooling off” breaks at regular intervals.
Alcohol and driving should not be combined — whether the driving involves a car, a boat or jet-skis. If you’re driving, don’t drink, and if you’re drinking, have someone else drive!
Contrary to popular wisdom, it’s not the mayonnaise in the chicken salad that increases the risk of food poisoning — it is more likely improperly cooked or handled chicken. Remember to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold at all times to avoid bacterial food poisoning.
Protect your head when riding a bike or motorcycle or using inline skates by wearing a helmet. The American Medical Association has stated that 75 percent of the cyclists who die each year die from head injuries!
If you’re a hiker, particularly in the Northeast, look out for the tiny ticks that can carry Lyme disease. If you’re planning a hike in an area new to you, contact the local health department for an update on the local tick situation. In any case, it’s wise to wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and to use tick-effective repellents. If you do get bitten, early treatment is important, so see a doctor as soon as possible.
Don’t let an itch ruin your vacation. Poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac grow in many parts of the United States. They all produce oily resins that cause itchy dermatitis in sensitive individuals. The resins may be picked up from direct contact with the plants, as well as from contaminated clothing or pets. However acquired, thoroughly washing the affected area as soon as possible with soap and water may prevent or decrease the severity of the dermatitis. Learn to recognize these plants and avoid them.
If your summer plans include travel, pack a healthy suitcase. Bring a first aid kit, ample supplies of prescription medications (especially if traveling abroad), and copies of your prescriptions.
Those who are heading for areas without high quality public sanitation should avoid drinking unboiled water, or uncooked fruits and vegetables washed in local water. And remember that ice cubes made with local water can also be a risk! Be wise and prepare for the possibility of travelers’ diarrhea — check with your doctor before you go to find out about appropriate medications and how to use them.
If motion sickness is likely to be an issue, be aware that there are several medications, including a skin patch that can be worn unobtrusively, to help prevent it. If you’re planning to spend time at high altitudes, know the symptoms of altitude sickness and what to do about it.
The increase in traveling and outdoor activities during the summer can increase the health risks for the unprepared. But taking a few simple precautions, like those outlined above, can help insure that your vacation is a source of pleasure, not of injury or illness.