Hello Mr. Norris! School is out, and summer is here. Americans are hitting the outdoors. But as a health practitioner, I watch many go out to enjoy summer activities without being prepared for certain health concerns. Care to highlight a few? – Nancy F., San Diego
I don’t think we should be paranoid or avoid our favorite summer activities – unless, of course, a medical condition or something else warrants it. But I do believe we need to take precautions and use wisdom in how and where we enjoy them.
With summer in full bloom and Americans enjoying everything from mountain camping to beach bathing, there are a dozen seasonal hazards and some preventive measures we can take to dodge their clutches.
1. High outdoor temperatures. Extreme summer temperatures around the nation warrant the first mention here. Those conditions were worsened recently when about 2 million customers on the East Coast – and even those as far west as Illinois – were without power for several days, which meant increased health risks with little means of cooling down.
Dehydration occurs rapidly in summer heat. And if the body isn’t hydrated and burns off electrolytes – such as potassium and sodium – your body can suffer heat exhaustion, the symptoms of which can be muscle cramps, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, headache, profuse sweating and a body temperature slightly higher than 100 degrees.
If the symptoms of heat exhaustion are not relieved, they can progress to a heatstroke, when our body’s temperature regulation system overloads or shuts down – much like a car might overheat. The symptoms of heatstroke are rapid but shallow pulse and breathing; hot, red and dry skin; no sweating; a 104-degree or higher temperature; confusion; irritability; seizures; and even a loss of consciousness. Heatstrokes can do irreparable damage.
Here are some great tips for aiding your body’s cooling system in the extreme heat:
- Avoid outside activities during hot times of the day. If you are required to be outside, drink water often, and take frequent breaks, preferably in shade.
- Stay in air-conditioned areas as much as possible. If you don’t have A/C or it goes out, try to find a mall, a library or a friend or relative’s house to cool off.
- Drink at least a gallon of water a day (about 16 glasses) when the outside temperature is higher than 90 degrees and you are not in air-conditioned surroundings.
- Drink 8 to 10 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity in such conditions.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to maintain adequate amounts of sodium, calcium and potassium.
- Don’t drink alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea or other drinks containing caffeine, because they cause you to lose fluid.
2. Asthma. With the increases of pollen, air pollution, airborne mold (because of high humidity), allergies and extreme temperatures, asthma attacks are on the rise, too, especially in children. The more you can reduce the combination of those factors the less likely you will have trouble.
A few months back, Dr. Marla Shuman, a pulmonologist with Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialists of Northern Virginia, gave to the viewing audience of the Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., some summer asthma warning signs for children: wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain and trouble sleeping. She said parents also should watch those who show unusual tiredness, are reluctant to play or have a family history with asthma.
If you are asthmatic or sensitive to the heightened environmental elements mentioned above, check local air pollen and pollution at www.airnow.gov and local temperatures at www.weather.com. If the conditions trigger or exacerbate your or your loved ones’ asthma, you might want to consider a getaway indoors. Of course, always pack extra inhalers or medications if you travel away from your health practitioner.
3. Disease risks at beaches, lakes and public pools. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Environmental Protection Agency “estimates that up to 3.5 million people in the U.S. become ill from contact with raw sewage from sewer overflows each year.” Aquatic health risks are amplified greatly when floodwater, which gathers all types of contaminates, pours into a body of water in which humans wade, swim or are active.
Moreover, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number has increased substantially in recent years. And in early June, the EPA reported on the 2011 swimming season at 3,650 monitored beaches. Beaches cited with at least one notification of a potential risk to public health rose to 43 percent last year from 37 percent in 2010 and 33 percent in 2007.
So here are a few musts for avoiding infection or not becoming ill when participating in public aquatics:
- Check out the EPA and CDC websites (or Heal the Bay’s own annual Beach Report Card) for ratings of local bodies of water.
- If you have an open wound, stay out of public waters.
- Don’t drink or in any way ingest public waters.
- Leave some space between you and those around you whom you don’t know.
- Watch out for sharing items, such as sunscreen or bottled drinks, and don’t breathe in mists or aerosols from others.
- Consider more private settings for summer water activities.
- Shower, and change your clothing immediately after being in any public body of water.
Write to Chuck Norris (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.