Summer health - top ways to keep well

There's something about sunshine that makes everything feel better - but it's not all happy holidays and lazy afternoons in the garden. The worst of the hay fever season is over for most people by mid July, but there are other pitfalls to avoid.

Be sun safe

When we've waited so long for the sun, it can be hard to remember how damaging too much can be. At best, there's the misery of sunburn or heat exhaustion. At worst, getting burnt in particular hugely raises your chance of skin cancer.

Never forget that by the time your skin starts to look red, the damage has been done - get out of the sun before you start to colour, or even better avoid full sunshine in hot climates. Wide-brimmed hats are a particular boon for men with less hair than they once had, because so many skin cancers occur on tips of ears and bald pates. Don't forget that sun can be reflected off water, sand or concrete even if you're in the shade, and wet clothes let in more sun than dry ones. Escaping for a mountain walking holiday won't necessarily help either - the sun's rays are much more powerful higher up.

Heat exhaustion can also creep up on you quickly. It's largely down to dehydration causing a drop in blood pressure, and old and young, along with people with diabetes using insulin or those with heart or kidney problems are at biggest risk. Keep your (non-alcoholic) fluid intake up in hot weather. Symptoms include rapid heart rate, dizziness and extreme tiredness, feeling or being sick and passing less water (which is dark when you do pass it). Severe dehydration and heat can lead to heatstroke, with muscle cramps, high fever, confusion and even seizures. This is a medical emergency, but milder cases can be treated with rest in a cool place and plenty of fluids.

Get your zeds

Long days and light evenings/early mornings can disrupt your sleep pattern too. Keep your bedroom really dark with thick curtains, and turn off glowing electrical equipment (including digital alarms) at the plug. Avoid excess alcohol, heavy meals or caffeine close to bedtime.

Bites and stings

Insects love summer just like us - and that includes biters (midges, gnats, mosquitoes, horseflies) and stingers (wasps, bees and hornets). You often don't notice a bite at first (horsefly bites are a painful exception!) but the itchy bump is due to your body's reaction to the insect's saliva. Stings hurt straightaway, but only bees leave their stinger in place - scrape it out as soon as possible with a credit card or fingernail, and never pluck it out.

Very rarely, stings can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction, with a blotchy rash all over your body, swelling of your face (including tongue and lips), palpitations, wheezing, breathlessness and fainting. This is always a medical emergency - call an ambulance, and use an adrenaline pen if you've been given one because you've had a similar reaction before. Unless you have an allergic reaction, cold compresses will ease stings, antihistamine tablets will reduce irritation and paracetamol will help pain.

Food poisoning: the 4cs

Food poisoning is a surefire way to ruin your summer fun - and if you've given it to your guests as well, you could be very unpopular! About 100,000 cases a year are reported in the UK but that's probably a huge underestimate. To avoid this misery, follow the four Cs:

  • Cleanliness (washing not just your hands but tea towels and cleaning sponges regularly)
  • Cooking (reheat food until it's piping hot, never reheat it more than once, and remember that pink is pretty in a dress but not in your barbecued food!)
  • Chilling (return food, including rice, to the fridge quickly and throw it away if it's been sitting outside for hours while you finish your lunch)
  • Cross-contamination (use separate boards and knives for preparing cooked and raw food, and keep them on separate shelves in the fridge).

More hot tips!

· Before venturing into the sea, check for jellyfish - they're the most frequent cause of stings in the sea around the UK

· Your eyes can suffer damage from sunshine too. Wraparound sunglasses with good UV protection offer best protection.

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. Patient Platform Limited 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.