Summertime and the living’s easy…until you step on a bee, come home from the pool with an aching-red sunburn, and, oh my god, is that a tick on your arm?
Yes, for all the fun the sunniest season of the year has to offer, it’s also rife with potential health problems.
Here are the five most common summer “illnesses” – and how you can prevent and treat them.
Common Summer Illnesses
1. Ear infections
It’s finally warm enough to jump into the river or take your SUP out in the ocean, but hours later your ear is red and throbbing in pain, particularly when chewing. What gives?
Traditionally known as otitis externa, “swimmer’s ear” is a prevalent problem, leading to approximately 2.4 million doctor visits annually, and with 44 percent of those cases occurring during June, July, and August. With symptoms that range from ear pain and itching (and usually only in one ear) to trouble hearing, swimmer’s ear develops when the thin, protective lining of your ear is broken and bacteria and fungi invade the space, causing an infection. (It can also be caused by scratching, cotton swabs, and skin conditions that lead the skin to crack.)
Dodge it: Make a white vinegar rinse with one-part white vinegar and one-part rubbing alcohol, then pour it into your ear and let it drain: The Mayo Clinic reports that this solution promotes drying and prevents the growth of fungi and bacteria.
Doctor it: Over-the-counter pain relief may reduce the pain; a heating pad, gently placed over the ear, may offer the same. Try a mullein and garlic infused in olive oil ear drops, or if a severe infection persists, see your medical doctor for topical antibiotic drops for your ear.
2. Food poisoning
County fairs, beach barbeques, potlucks in the park – summer brims with fun feasts, and with fresh corn on the cob and juicy watermelon, who can say no to their offerings? Summer, however, is also a hotbed for foodborne illnesses, which, the United States Department of Agriculture describes as two-fold: “Bacteria,” they say, “multiply faster in warmer temperatures, and preparing food outdoors makes safe food handling more difficult.”
Dodge it: Always, always keep perishable foods refrigerated. In particular, ensure that raw meat, poultry and seafood are kept in the refrigerator or an insulated cooler, below 40 degrees, until you’re ready to grill. Separate raw from cooked food, thoroughly clean hands, produce, utensils and cooking dishes, and be a stickler about sell-by dates: As Healthy Food Guide reminds us, “The older the food, the more chance there is for microbes to grow and reach levels to cause us harm.”
Doctor it: Diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps – it’s all miserable, but it’s all your body’s way of trying to kick out the toxins that have gotten into you. While most cases of food poisoning resolve by themselves within a few days, it’s more dangerous for babies, children, pregnant women, adults over 60 and those with compromised immune systems and chronic illnesses, and your doctor should be called if you experience extreme dehydration, blood in your vomit or poop, or a fever over 101 degrees.
If not, then your best bet is to stay close to a bathroom to ride it out and support it with home remedies. These include sipping water, broth and/or an electrolyte solution, nibbling toast, rice or crackers, and getting plenty of rest.
3. Heat stroke
There’s pleasantly warm and then there’s outright hot – and the latter can be a major health risk, particularly for the elderly. Heat stroke is a condition in which your body literally overheats. Also known as sunstroke, it leads to the short-circuiting of your body’s internal temperature control system, and is medically defined as a core temperature that reaches or exceeds 104 degrees. The possible consequences of this are wide-reaching and grave, from complications with your nervous system to damage to your internal organs to coma and death.
Dodge it: When the mercury rises, be sure to stay inside, in an air conditioned place, during the hottest times of day. Likewise, given that heatstroke can strike young athletes, get your workout in early in the morning or evening, and wear light-colored, loose clothing that will allow air to get to your skin. Make sure you’re staying hydrated, and avoid over-imbibing on beers on the beach: Alcohol (and caffeine) are dehydrating, which will up your chances of coming down with a heat illness.
Doctor it: Call 911. Unlike heat exhaustion, which generally can be treated with immersing yourself in cool water, rehydrating, and laying down with your legs elevated, heat stroke “can be very serious if not treated quickly,” the NHS reports. If you or someone else isn’t sweating (even while it’s hot), is showing signs of confusion or has shortness of breath, seek medical assistance immediately.
4. Yeast infections
Bright sunshine can be a boon—except when it comes to below the belt (at least when it comes to us we women). Why? “Some women who are at risk or prone to yeast infections notice that summer can be a time of flaring,” gynecologist Natasha Johnson, MD, told Women’s Health. Blame the balmy temps: moisture gets trapped and yeast (and other bacteria) can overgrow, possibly leaving you with irritation, itching, vaginal discharge and pain during intercourse and urination.
Dodge it: First things first: Change out of your wet clothes and bikini bottoms before hitting the bar for happy hour or the town for errands, as walking around in damp clothing can create a breeding ground for bacteria. Opt for cotton, non-thong underwear instead of lacey lingerie (cotton allows your body to “breathe,” while thong panties can irritate the area), skip the hot tub and refrain from using scented feminine products.
Doctor it: Happen to fall victim? Don’t despair: Yeast infections are not only common (75 percent of women will experience at least one over the course of their lifetime) but easy to treat. OTC yeast-fighting products help, while raw, organic coconut oil can be applied topically to ease symptoms.
5. Summer stings
Mosquitoes, bees, flies, wasps – as wonderful of a time as summer may be, it’s not at a loss for up close and personal encounters with a range of critters. Most of the time, a sting is more irksome than concerning, causing swelling, redness and itchiness for roughly 24 hours. That said, if you experience trouble breathing or swallowing, have tightness in your chest, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, or hives/itching across your whole body, call 911 or your local emergency services.
Dodge it: As fresh as you may want to smell, don’t use perfumes and scented lotions and soaps when heading outside: All can be alluring to certain insects. Avoid bright colored clothing, which can attract honeybees and hornets, resist walking barefoot (or keep your eyes on the sand when ambling down the beach), and use natural insect repellents. And if you’re heading out hiking? Pants and long-sleeved shirts (yes, even in summer) can limit skin exposure, while experts suggest staying away from heavily-wooded areas.
Doctor it: You may be as cautious as possible but still get bitten. If that’s the case, apply an ice pack to the region for 10-15 minutes, three to four times per day, and follow it up with aloe vera or this home remedy: Make a paste by mixing equal amounts of oatmeal and water in a bowl, until it takes on a spackle-like texture. Add some paste to a washcloth and press it, paste-side down, on the bite, for 10-20 minutes. (Alternatively, you could take an oatmeal bath.) Out of oatmeal in the house? Try chamomile: The summery tea has long been used to soothe skin irritation and accelerate healing. You’ll be back outside before you know it.