Stand up to Summer

Health niggles can quickly put a damper on the sunniest day, says Dr Hilary Jones. Here’s what to watch out for and best protective tactics

Beautiful Braye Beach - Alderney Channel Islands

 

Hot summer days are wonderful if you are relaxing in your swimming costume drinking Pimms by the water’s edge, but not such fun when you are sweating in a suit on a crowded commuter train on your way to work. Either way the sun and the heat can cause significant and uncomfortable health problems – but the good news is there are solutions.

Heat rash

When the weather is humid as well as hot, skin can become waterlogged with sweat and red and itchy. This is known as prickly heat. There is another type of allergy to certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light. This is known as polymorphic light eruption (PLE).

FIX IT. Try to keep skin as cool as possible and covered with loose clothes to ward off the ultraviolet rays. Use a sunscreen with a high UVB factor as well as a five-star UVA rating and reapply frequently. Soaking in a bath to which you have added a palmful of baking soda can help to soothe any itch.

Excess sweating

Otherwise known as hyperhidrosis, excess sweating can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, especially if your palms are dripping when shaking someone’s hand or you find dark stains highlighted where your wet shirt or blouse is clinging to your armpits and back. You don’t have to suffer – there are steps you can take to keep cool.

FIX IT. Start by wearing loose-fitting, silk or cotton clothes and use a water spray to keep cool. Try using a roll-on deodorant containing a 20 per cent aluminium chloride hexahydrate solution on armpits, hands and feet. It can be very effective.

A more unusual suggestion, perhaps, is to get Botox. When it’s injected into the apex of the armpit, it paralyses the tiny nerves, which enable the sweat glands to produce sweat, providing a long-term solution.

Food poisoning

The warmer the weather on buffet and barbecue days, the faster any microbes and the toxins they produce breed inside and on top of the food. As a result nausea and vomiting, tummy pain and diarrhoea can occur within two to 36 hours depending on the type of germ and the number consumed.

FIX IT. Avoid food contamination by never preparing raw or unwashed ingredients close to pre-cooked foods. Practise stringent hygiene when handling food and always cook it all the way through, especially on the barbie. Eat food piping hot and only reheat it once, if at all. Never eat buffet food that’s been left out in the open for more than one hour or if it’s been exposed to flies.

On holiday avoid uncooked food unless you can peel or shell it yourself; food that has been kept warm; shellfish and food that has been exposed to flies and always wash any fruit before eating. If you do get ‘the runs’ or sickness, sip plenty of clear fluids or take rehydrating sachets such as Dioralyte to stay hydrated. Also consider Imodium tablets to prevent serious diarrhoea if you are travelling. Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition suggests looking at taking a probiotic such as Healthspan Super Pro 5 with over 5 billion ‘friendly’ live cultures. Best to start taking this before and during your travels as changes in lifestyle, diet, and exercise regime can all affect your gut and may offer some protection.

Sunburn

A healthy tan makes us look and feel so much better, but too much sun can cause untold damage to skin and even skin cancer. Staying safe in the sun includes wearing a broad brimmed hat and avoiding exposure between 11 am and 4 pm when the sun’s rays are at their hottest. In addition go for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 plus a 4 or 5 star UVA rating. Apply it 15-20 minutes before going out. Reapply every two hours and always after swimming.

FIX IT. If you do overdo it in the sun you can still treat symptoms. Cool the skin and apply oily calamine with one per cent phenol, which the pharmacist may be able to make up for you. Alternatively, aloe vera gel can help to cool things down. In more serious cases one percent hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines may be needed.

Insect bites

Just like you, wasps, bees, mosquitoes, red ants, horseflies and hornets are out and about enjoying the warm weather, but unfortunately they do bite. And the poisons contained in their bites or stings may result in pain, redness and swelling.

FIX IT. Start by making sure to wear long-sleeved clothing at dusk and avoid brightly coloured materials, which can attract bugs. Apply a good insect repellent containing DEET and if eating outside burn a citronella candle nearby. If you get bitten, using an antihistamine cream or taking tablets will help. Applying one per cent hydrocortisone cream or an ice cube are also worth a try.

Hives

This red, blotchy, itchy skin rash is caused by some form of allergy. Lying on the grass on a warm summer’s day is a common trigger as is contact with nettles. Any garden plant, however, can potentially irritate skin especially on hot days. The reason? Blood flow in the skin is increased and the blood vessels become swollen and more likely to leak irritant chemicals such as histamine.

FIX IT. Keep your skin covered and take antihistamine in advance if you are vulnerable to prevent reactions occurring. Avoid contact with the things you know you react to and never wear tight restrictive clothing – any physical rubbing of the skin once you have developed hives can make things worse.

Athlete’s Foot

Those pesky fungi that thrive in a warm, moist, sweaty environment just adore those conditions between your toes during summer. So don’t make life easy for them.

FIX IT. It is easy enough to get rid of athlete’s foot itself by keeping the skin dry with thorough towelling between the toes after showering and by applying antifungal powder. Once the fungus has found its way into your toenails, however, it can be hard to get rid of. Use Canestan cream or a similar antifungal, available over-the-counter, for red, flaky itchy skin around and between the toes and on the soles of the feet. Continue using the cream for at least a fortnight after the fungus appears to have visibly cleared it up or it will just come back again. For fungal nail infection you may need antifungal tablets from your doctor which you may have to take for several months. There can also be side-effects which you need to discuss.

Insomnia

So you have had a beautiful day in the sun and you’ve been active all day. But now you’re tossing and turning in bed hot, sweaty, tired and unable to sleep.

FIX IT. Remove the duvet and replace it with a single light cotton sheet. Wet your hair and sprinkle water over the sheet before you climb into bed. These are both very cooling. Use a small electric fan on your bedside table and direct towards your face. Close the curtains tightly with a blackout blind pulled down behind them to keep the room dark. Pop some lavender oil on your pillow and consider taking a single 4mg tablet of Piriton, especially if you also suffer from hayfever to help you get to sleep.

Hot weather tips
  • Wear sunglasses that block 100 per cent of UVA and UVB rays. Check the CE mark which shows they conform to an agreed European standard. There is also a British standard: BS EN 1836: 1997.
  • Drink plenty of water, especially if you feel hot. Dehydration can trigger headaches or fatigue.
  • Putting a sprig of fresh lavender on your pillow can help you to nod off fast on hot balmy nights.
  • Feet tend to swell in the heat so wear more roomy open shoes.
  • Go slow like the Mediterraneans. Walk slower, think slower and just go with the flow.
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