Stay well this summer

Summer health – our guide to staying safe when the heat arrives

The summer months are finally upon us and most of us welcome the sunshine and warmer weather. But not only must we remember to follow COVID-19 guidance, it is also important to remember the various health problems summer can bring that might affect you or your family.

Don’t let your summer be ruined by sunstroke, dehydration or hay fever. Advice on avoiding the worst of their effects is all covered in our guide to summer health.

Heatwaves and very hot weather

There are some easy ways to stay safe when the heat arrives.

  • Look out for others, especially older people, young children and babies and those with underlying health conditions.
  • Close curtains on rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler and remember it may be cooler outdoors than indoors.
  • Drink plenty of water as sugary, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks can make you dehydrated.
  • Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals.
  • Walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat if you have to go out in the heat, and try to keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm.
  • Take care and follow local safety advice if you are going into the water to cool down.
  • Avoid physical exertion in the hottest parts of the day.
  • Wear light, loose fitting cotton clothes.
  • Make sure you take water with you if you are travelling.

Hay fever

Hay fever can be miserable for so many people as the different blossoms and allergies run through the whole summer.

There’s currently no cure for hay fever and you unfortunately cannot prevent it. However, you can do things to ease your symptoms when the pollen count is high including:

  • putting Petroleum Jelly around your nostrils to trap pollen
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes
  • showering and change your clothes after you’ve been outside to wash pollen off
  • staying indoors whenever possible
  • keeping windows and doors shut as much as possible
  • vacuuming regularly and dust with a damp cloth
  • buy inga pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a special HEPA filter

Hay fever is not a long-term medical condition and treatment is only required for a few months each year so it can be managed without medical input. There are lots of different medications available, most of which are available to buy from your community pharmacy.

The NHS in mid Essex spent around £150,000 last year paying for antihistamines, eye drops and nasal spray medications on prescription. Yet antihistamines can be bought for as little as £1.99 for 30 tablets and eye drops for as little as £4.99. This is why, when you only need them now and again, it is better to buy over the counter instead.

For more advice on managing hay fever symptoms visit www.allergyuk.org.

Keep hydrated

Everyone is at risk of dehydration in hot temperatures which is why it’s always important to keep hydrated, but during hot weather it’s even more important to drink plenty of fluids like water – especially for the elderly or if you have a health condition such as diabetes.

Some drinks can increase dehydration, including those containing alcohol or caffeine such as tea, coffee and cola drinks. Drinks high in sugar have a similar effect – so stay clear of all these.

For those reluctant to drink water, why not try homemade ice lollies made with watered-down fruit juice or squash, or adding fruits such as lemons and limes to your bottled water?

Although you may not feel particularly hungry in the heat, don’t stop eating. Perhaps try to have smaller, more frequent light meals and incorporate lots of fruits and salad which are full of water and will help hydrate you.

Sun safety

We all know sunscreen is important but using the right one can be a little confusing. The NHS’s general advice is a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to protect against UVB and at least four-star UVA protection. Of course, the best protection from the sun is staying out of it at the hottest parts of the day, from 11am to 3pm.

Most people also don’t apply enough sunscreen. Due to the huge range of different products available including lotions, mousses, sprays and gels it is always best to check the individual product for advice on how to apply.

As a general guide, adults should aim to apply around two teaspoons of sunscreen if you’re just covering your head, arms and neck or two tablespoons if you’re covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume.

If sunscreen is applied too thinly, the amount of protection it gives is reduced. Areas such as the back and sides of the neck, temples and ears are commonly missed, so you need to apply it generously and be careful not to miss patches.

Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow it to dry. More is better and don’t forget to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and immediately after swimming or sweating, or if it has rubbed off for example by towel drying.

For more sun safety tips visit www.nhs.uk.

Bugs and bites

Like sunburn and sand between your toes, insects and bites are a pretty unpleasant part of summer. Most insect bites and stings are not serious and will get better within a few hours or days. There’s lots of help available from www.nhs.ukk and you can also buy creams for itching and antihistamines from your pharmacy to have at home in case you need them.

If you are worried about a bite or sting then seek advice from your community pharmacist, GP or call NHS111.

Sprains and strains

When the weather is nice it is the perfect opportunity to put down the TV remote and head outdoors for some fun and games. Being active is good for your overall wellbeing. It builds confidence, social skills and improves concentration and learning. It also helps us maintain a healthy weight and aids sleep.

However, with being active and playing sports there is more risk of sprains and strains from tripping and falling. Most minor sprains and strains are relatively minor and can be treated at home with self-care techniques, such as paracetamol or PRICE therapy.

PRICE stands for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.

  • Protection – protect the affected area from further injury – for example, by using a support.
  • Rest – avoid exercise and reduce your daily physical activity. Using crutches or a walking stick may help if you can’t put weight on your ankle or knee. A sling may help if you’ve injured your shoulder.
  • Ice – apply an ice pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes every two to three hours. A bag of frozen peas, or similar, will work well. Wrap the ice pack in a towel so that it doesn’t directly touch your skin and cause an ice burn.
  • Compression – use elastic compression bandages during the day to limit swelling.
  • Elevation – keep the injured body part raised above the level of your heart whenever possible. This may also help reduce swelling.

A community pharmacist can offer self-care advice on managing sprains and strains and advice on the short-term use of over the counter medicines until you recover from your injury.

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