I do not want to rain on anybody’s parade, but according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2018 is on pace to be the fourth hottest year on record. The bad news I am bringing has to do with a recent report and reminder to us all that, exceedingly hot weather aside, studies continue to show that health problems are more likely to occur in the summer months than other times of the year.
I know it is the middle of summer, but it never too late for such a reminder. If you have already been through a sunburn session, then the notion that we need to always take time to incorporate sun-safe practices into our everyday summer routine may not be news to you. Health can be negatively impacted by excessive time in the sun. Without proper protection, the risk of serious conditions like skin cancer and cataracts goes up.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone older than six months wear a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on exposed areas of the body every day – year round. During the summer months, that routine also includes a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses (that block out 99-to-100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation).
During the summer, you should reapply sunscreen often. Most formulas wash off in around 40 minutes. If your vacation destination is Hawaii, and you want to establish goodwill with the locals, then be prepared to use a sunscreen product labeled as “reef safe.”
The state recently banned two sunscreen ingredients researchers have found harmful to coral reefs. The ban goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021. After that date, the sale or distribution of any sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate without a prescription from a licensed health care provider is prohibited by law. According to Craig Downs, a forensic ecotoxicologist and the lead author of the study that persuaded Hawaiian legislators to ban the ingredients, in addition to damaging and destroying coral reefs, the two chemicals were found at toxic levels in fish, sea turtle eggs, algae, dolphins, oysters, crayfish and mussels.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate continue to be on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of approved active ingredients for sunscreen. No telling when, or if, that will change. In the meantime, I recommend the use of “reef-safe” sunscreens as much as possible.
Also, make water your beverage of choice during the summer months. It is one of the best ways available to avoid damaging skin and protecting yourself from a range of heat-related illnesses ranging from heat exhaustion to heat stroke. Know that cramps can be an early sign of heat exhaustion. Excessive sweating, weakness, dizziness or nausea following prolonged exposure to the sun, if persistent, should be seen as signs that you need to seek medical treatment.
A common infection during the summer is swimmer’s ear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it leads to an estimated 2.4 million doctor’s visits and $500 million in health care costs a year. To prevent water from being stuck in the ear canal, dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or showering. Should water remain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you tilt your head so one ear faces down to allow water to escape the ear canal. Then gently pull your ear lobe in several directions to help the water drain out. If the water is still stuck, they suggest using a hair dryer at a low setting and positioned at a safe distance from the ear to evaporate it. Never stick a cotton swab or other object in your ear. You want to leave the earwax alone as it protects the lining of the ear from infections.
Because the bacteria that cause food poisoning grow fastest in hot and humid weather, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that of the 76 million people who fall ill with food poisoning each year, these illnesses are twice as common during the summer months than during other parts of the year.
According to federal health officials, at least six multistate food borne illness outbreaks are now ongoing in this country. Many of these food recalls are due to “potential illness,” meaning no known illnesses have been reported. Some prepackaged salads, food wraps and vegetable trays have been pulled from shelves. Some brand name package goods containing a seasoning ingredient called whey powder have also been pulled. It is important to keep up with the latest developments in your region and to be vigilant about the food you consume.
Even more reason, if you are traveling, to take in a local farmers market or roadside stand. Eating locally grown foods has many benefits for you, the grower and the community. The money that is spent with local farmers and growers stays in that community and is reinvested in businesses and services. It is another way to say “thank you” to a community in which you are staying.
When grown locally, the crops are picked at their peak of ripeness, nutrient value and flavor as opposed to being harvested early in order to be shipped and distributed elsewhere. Keep in mind that, the more steps there are between you and your food’s source, the more chances there are for contamination. You can also ask the growers directly what practices they use to raise and harvest the crops. When you know where your food comes from and who grew it, you know a lot more about the food you are about to eat.
Regardless of the precautions the summer months require, we should not let anything get in the way of getting out and enjoying this time in the sun. Spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits. Time spent in the natural environment has a restorative effect on our health. I will have more on this next week.
Write to Chuck Norris 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.