How to stay healthy at a music festival
The season for summer music festivals is upon us and, while these extended outdoor events offer an escape from our everyday worries and routines, they can also bring with them some common medical issues. But with a little forward-planning, your memories of the Isle of Wight, RiZE, Wireless or Bestival could be all about the music, not the time you spent in the medical tent.
Here are seven top tips to help you have a happy, and healthy, music festival season:
Mild dehydration can cause headaches, poor concentration, tiredness and light-headedness. If you're more severely dehydrated, you can experience palpitations, breathing problems, dizziness, confusion or even loss of consciousness.
The European Food Standards Agency recommends that for the average adult, fluid intake should be about 1.5 litres a day for women and 2 litres for men. In addition to that, it's recommended that another half litre of fluid come from foods. However, if you're exercising you may lose as much as a litre of fluid an hour, although that varies dramatically depending on how energetically you're dancing, how much you sweat and how hot it is.
Do be aware that, while tea and coffee in moderation can contribute to your fluid intake, all alcohol is dehydrating. As a rule of thumb, if your urine looks dark rather than pale straw-coloured, you need more fluid.
And while you may think it's impossible to drink too much water, there is a rare but serious complication of fluid overload, called hyponatraemia. Some recreational drugs can make you more prone to this.
You may feel you want to make the most of every minute at a festival, but being overtired can take all the fun out of it - you're hardly going to enjoy yourself if you have a headache and can't concentrate.
As with exercising, slow-burn carbohydrates can keep your energy levels up. You may think it will be easier to sleep amid the noise of a festival at night if you have alcohol on board, but you'd be mistaken. Being drunk may make it easier to get to sleep, but your sleep pattern will be disturbed and won't refresh you in the same way. You're also more likely to wake early (probably needing a trek to the communal loos) and find it difficult to get back to sleep.
Some people find napping during the day gives them an energy boost, but for others it's a recipe for poor sleep the next night.
Claustrophobia is extremely frightening, and can come on in seconds. Alcohol and particularly recreational drugs make you much more prone to panic attacks and claustrophobia - just because other people are indulging doesn't make them a good idea.
Symptoms include an intense feeling of anxiety, thumping heart, shortness of breath, dry mouth, sweaty palms, feeling hot and cold, chest pain, feeling sick or dizzy and sometimes pins and needles in your hands and around your mouth.
In the short term, focusing on your breathing and taking very slow, deep breaths can help. Over-breathing (hyperventilation) is a natural response to very high adrenaline levels that accompany claustrophobia or panic attack. This makes you want to breathe rapidly, which in turn can result in light-headedness and dizziness from too much oxygen and too little carbon dioxide in the system. You also want to get out of the situation as soon as possible.
But beware - avoiding a situation that causes symptoms of anxiety may seem sensible, but it can actually make the problem worse in the long term, as you end up restricting your life more and more. If you suffer from regular panic attacks or claustrophobia, see your doctor about possible treatment.
The best festivals involve lots of dancing - and energetic dancing takes as much energy as marathon running.
Slow-burn carbohydrates are the body's preferred energy source during high-intensity activity - wholemeal pasta, potatoes and some fruit and vegetables are ideal. Protein helps to rebuild muscle as well as being one of the most effective forms of food for staving off hunger - white meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are great sources. If you're vegan, think soy, quinoa, Quorn®, hummus or rice and beans.
Ringing ears/temporary loss of hearing
There is a raft of evidence showing that exposure to loud noise increases your chance of presbyacusis (age-related hearing loss) in later life. Unfortunately, as far as the average festival-goer is concerned, old age is a lifetime away and rarely top of their agenda. However, not uncommonly this sort of hearing loss can start from the age of 40 - not so very old!
Tinnitus, a distressing and persistent ringing in the ears, can be brought on by exposure even to short bursts of very loud noise. I tell my patients that it's never too early to start protecting their ears from loud noise, and it shouldn't be optional. My advice is that earplugs are as essential a part of festival life as the tent and the spare supply of loo roll!
Heat exhaustion (sun/heat exposure)
It can be easy to forget when you're having fun in the sun, but there are significant risks from excess sun and heat exposure.
Sunburn is an obvious one - keep a hat to hand at all times, apply sunscreen regularly and don't give in to the temptation to go shirtless.
Heat exhaustion causes extreme tiredness, profuse sweating, light-headedness and being sick.
The solution is getting out of the heat, resting and drinking plenty of fluids. Heatstroke is a more serious complication - your body loses the ability to cool itself down and becomes dangerously overheated. Symptoms of heatstroke include confusion, severe headache, dizziness or fainting, muscle cramps, intense thirst and rapid shallow breathing. This is always a medical emergency.
Lots of my elderly patients suffer from swollen legs - for people with long-term health problems, this can be a warning sign of heart failure. But all too often it's caused by sitting with their legs down for long periods. A similar (although usually milder) issue arises if you stand still for too long.
You don't use the muscle pumps in your calves that normally help pump blood around the circulation and back to the heart. Since fluid has to battle against gravity to get back up the legs when you're standing, this can lead to fluid accumulating, causing tired, achy and swollen lower legs.
There are two obvious solutions. The first is to keep your muscle pumps working by exercising your legs - either by walking or dancing or even by tensing the calf muscles regularly when you're standing or walking up and down on the spot. The second is to use gravity to get the fluid out of the legs - and that involves keeping your legs up, ideally above the level of your heart. Lying flat on the ground with your legs propped on a pillow (or a rucksack) will help relieve the swelling and aching.