Summer health sorted

Summer has arrived - and that includes some sunshine! If the weather forecasters are anything to go by, there's more to come, and by being prepared for insect bites, possible dehydration and more besides, you can enjoy it to the full ...

The wonderful 1960s comedy singing duo, Flanders and Swan, had a song called The Calendar Song, with a ditty for each month. July's? 'In July the sun is hot - is it shining? No, it's not!' This year, for once, we've actually had some decent sunshine. But if the weather forecasters are anything to go by, there's more to come, and by being prepared you can enjoy it to the full.

Sunburn

In a word - don't! Any redness of the skin tells you your skin has been damaged by sun, increasing your risk of skin cancer. Never use sunscreen that's out of date; apply factor 15 or higher every couple of hours and after swimming; include your neck, ears and scalp (especially the chaps!); wear a broad-brimmed hat; and in hot countries avoid the sun when it's at its hottest, between 11 am and 3 pm.

When insects leave a calling card

Two critters leave an unwelcome memento of their visit behind. Bees (but not wasps) leave their sting in your skin. Don't pluck it out, as this can squeeze more venom out. Instead, scrape it out as fast as possible with a fingernail or edge of a credit card. Ticks, by contrast, leave their whole selves behind to feed! They're usually the size of a pinhead but can swell to baked bean size after a meal of your blood. Never scrape them off - instead, use tweezers to grasp them round the base (not the body) and pull gently away from the skin. If you get a rash at the site of a tick bite within the next month, always see your doctor.

Taking the heat out of prickly heat

The itchy red crops of spots of prickly heat are due to sweat rather than sunshine. Caused by blocked sweat glands when you sweat more, up to one in three visitors to hotter climes are affected. Prevention is better than cure - pack loose cotton or linen clothes that let skin breathe, take time out in an air-conditioned room or take regular cool showers. If you are affected, stay cool and apply moisturiser or a mild steroid cream. Prickly heat is usually no more than an irritation, but do be aware that you can be prone to heat exhaustion if you're still in a hot country and the rash is widespread.

Don't dehydrate!

In summer, it's easy to get dehydrated because of increased sweating, leaving you tired, headachey and prone to urine infections or worse. Carry a bottle of water in your handbag on holiday in case you're delayed while travelling. Tea and coffee don't dehydrate you in moderation (up to 400 mg caffeine a day - that's 4 cups of brewed coffee or 8 cups of tea) and can contribute to your daily fluid intake. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a diuretic at any level, and can leave you even more prone to dehydration in summer.

First aid for insect bites and stings

Stinging insects - wasps, bees and hornets - inject venom when they sting, so you know about it straightaway. Biting insects - midges, mosquitoes and gnats - take their meal from you painlessly, but you can develop itchy lumps as a reaction to their saliva. Horsefly bites are bites, not stings, but painless is definitely not the right word for them. Cold compresses, simple painkillers if swelling is painful, steroid or crotamiton cream or antihistamine tablets can all help - ask your pharmacist.

Beat barbecue bugs

The Food Standards Agency recommends the '4Cs' to avoid summer food poisoning, a particular risk with picnics and home barbecues:

Cleanliness - keep work surfaces, utensils and hands clean; change tea towels and dishcloths regularly; and never cook for others if you have diarrhoea or vomiting.

Cooking - cook and reheat food (especially meat like chicken and sausages) right through until the middle is piping hot; don't reheat food more than once.

Chilling - keep 'to be refrigerated' foods refrigerated! Leaving them out at room temperature lets germs multiply. For picnics, invest in a well-insulated coolbox and add ice packs for good measure. Keep your fridge door closed whenever it's not in use and put leftover food in the fridge (kept at one to five degrees C) as soon as it's cooled.

Cross-contamination - mixing raw and cooked foods is a recipe for disaster. Anything that touches one - hands, chopping boards, knives - should be washed before it touches the other. Keep raw meat in a separate fridge drawer that can't drip on to food below.


With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.