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Top 10: How to avoid Summer health hazards

Stay healthy and safe this season by being aware of the hazards that go hand in hand with the heat. MiNDFOOD reports.

It’s a time for sand, sun, barbecues and long drives. Unfortunately, summer is also when you’re more likely to get stung by a jellyfish, suffer dehydration or wind up with a nasty case of heartburn.

There may be no cure for the summertime blues, but there are certainly ways to prevent them. Here are 10 seasonal health hazards to be mindful of.

WATER

A day at the water is a quintessentially summer activity, however a cool dip during the hottest months can sometimes turn tragic. Although Water Safety New Zealand statistics show a steady decrease in the number of deaths due to drowning, 98 people still lost their lives in 2009.

So what can you do to ensure you and your family stay safe? Experts recommend swimming with a friend and in a patrolled area, taking care in unfamiliar waterways and maintaining constant visual contact with children. Ensure your resuscitation skills are up to date; and if you have been drinking stay out of the water – alcohol plays a factor in 15 per cent of drownings.

HEARTBURN

Al fresco lunches, barbeques, Christmas banquets – there are so many excuses to overindulge. Unfortunately, many of our hot-weather favourites come with an unpleasant after-effect: heartburn. Fatty foods, tomatoes, garlic, onions, chocolate, cola, citrus and alcohol are all culprits, and having a good lie down after a big meal can make things worse.

If you are hit with oesophageal reflux, try moving around to mitigate the effects. Some experts recommend berries; their ellagaic acid can help neutralise stomach acid secretions. Over-the-counter antacids can provide relief in mild cases, and your doctor can prescribe medication for more serious bouts.  

SKIN

Australasians are all too aware of the perils of sunburn, which is not only uncomfortable and blister-forming, it increases the risk of skin cancer. We are especially vulnerable at the water, which reflects the sun and intensifies its rays. Protect yourself by avoiding sun between 10am and 3pm, wearing a hat and applying SPF30+ sunscreen. Avoid tanning salons and be aware of changes in your skin. If you do get burned, drink lots of water and apply cold compresses.

HEAT

We all know we’re supposed to drink lots of water, but this becomes imperative during the hottest months. When the temperature rises and the body tries to cool itself by sweating, the resulting loss of fluid can lead to dehydration and even heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

The best time to consume fluids is before you are thirsty – once you feel that need to drink you are already dehydrated. Drink at least 1 1/2 cups of water every 20 minutes and at least 1 1/2 cups of water 20 to 30 minutes before playing or exercising in the heat. Avoid coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol as these all contain dehydrating agents.

EYES

It’s been drilled into us that we need to protect our skin from the sun’s UV radiation, but what about our peepers? Short-term exposure can cause excessive blinking, swelling and sunburn of the cornea.

Over the long term, there’s the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and cancer of the conjunctiva. The right sunnies can potentially save your sight – choose high-quality lenses that filter out 100 per cent of UV radiation and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.   

KIDS IN CARS

On a typical summer day, a car can quickly turn into an oven, with temperatures reaching as high as 78 degrees. The New Zealand Automobile Association says it receives between 60 and 80 calls per month requesting help to rescue children or pets from cars, and between December 2008-November 2009, there were 918 reports of children in locked vehicles.

Youngsters, more susceptible to heat than adults, can rapidly develop life-threatening hyperthermia when exposed to a car’s rapidly rising temperature. The solution to this summer hazard is simple: never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – not even to run a five-minute errand.

OCEAN NASTIES

The idea of a bluebottle sting is enough to strike fear into even the most devoted beachgoer, and hundreds of the creatures have been known to wash up on beaches during the summer, especially after periods of tumultuous weather. When the creature strikes, it releases a powerful toxin that causes immediate and severe pain. Treatment advice tends to change by the season, but current thinking recommends the application of hot compresses or immersion in hot water to minimise the pain, which generally fades over about an hour.

BARBECUES

When it comes to a summer BBQ gathering, there is more to worry about than just burning the meat. The combination of a party atmosphere, drinks and an open fire can quickly cause an accident. Fire safety experts recommend you ensure your BBQ is serviced correctly and used in a well-ventilated area with a water source handy.

Always BBQ on a firm, level base and allow 48 hours for ashes or coals to cool before removing them. Studies have shown that charring meat can expose us to cancer-causing chemicals, so before you get started, thoroughly clean your grill. Avoid petroleum starters when grilling with charcoal, and light your gas grill immediately after opening the valve.   

ROADS

Traffic, fatigue, overheated kids screaming in the back seat … summer driving can be a daunting prospect, especially when it seems as though everyone under the sun has hit the road. To steer clear of tragedy, don’t use party season as a reason to drink and drive (a recent five-year study revealed that 27 per cent of accidents were alcohol related) and don’t get fooled by the longer days into thinking you can push it farther than usual. Check your tires before you embark on a road trip and ensure you (and your car) have plenty of water.

ALLERGIES

About 20 per cent of New Zealanders suffer from hayfever and nearly 40 per cent of Australians. The symptoms can become much worse during the early summer when trees and grass release their pollen, and weeds begin to grow. Other summer triggers include temperature changes, smoke from bushfires and increased ozone levels. You can avoid pollens by keeping doors and windows closed when you are inside and dusting with a damp cloth. If you want to play outdoors, try the early morning, when airborne allergens are less prevalent and air quality is better.

Don’t forget…The bugs and the bees

The longer you spend in the great, steamy outdoors this summer, the more likely you are to have a brush with a bee, wasp, sandfly, mosquito or tick. Such an encounter can range from a minor irritation calling for nothing more than a cold compress and some anti-inflammatory cream to a life-threatening situation requiring an emergency injection of epinephrine. If someone is stung by a honeybee, remove the stinger with a fingernail or blunt knife; don’t try to squeeze out the venom. Apply a cold pack and watch for allergic reactions. Ticks live in humid, bushy areas and they can cause symptoms ranging from a rash and flu symptoms to weakness in the limbs and partial facial paralysis. If you find one, remove it using fine-pointed tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible. Mosquitoes can carry all manner of diseases, so try to cover up, especially at dawn and dusk when the buzzing menaces are most active. Avoid stagnant water and don’t forget the bug spray.

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