When the days are longer and the weather is warmer, we all enjoy the glorious outdoors a little more. But summer comes with its own set of health issues that are easily preventable with the correct precautions. So be prepared to dispense some summer health advice.
Getting burnt by the sun is an uncomfortable experience at best. When exposed to too much UV light, the skin can overheat, become red and painful and peel or even blister. According to HES on Sunburn for 2009-10, 20 per cent of people treated for sunburn had first-degree burns and a further 25 per cent suffered second-degree burns.
Repeated sunburn can lead to more serious health concerns such as increasing the risk of skin cancers. So, helping to prevent sunburn is an important service.
Tips for Preventing Sunburn
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30+ and reapply every two hours.
- Never assume sun exposure is safe as UV levels are not linked to temperature.
- Wear hats, cover exposed skin where possible and seek out the shade.
- Avoid the parts of the day when the sun is highest.
- Tanned skin is damaged skin and will not protect against the risk of skin cancer.
- Black and Asian skin may still require protection from extreme sun exposure.
Tips for Treating Sunburn
- Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
- Apply a cold compress or cool, wet flannel to the burnt area.
- Use spray-on after sun treatments that require less touching of the skin.
- Use over-the-counter pain relief if necessary.
- Stay out of the sun until the burn is completely healed.
- Never pop skin blisters
- Never apply butter to a sunburn.
If the burn is over a large area or is causing severe pain, always recommend a visit to A&E. Other more serious symptoms that require a visit to A&E include headaches, fever, dizziness, nausea and vomiting which should always be referred on.
Do the sunscreens you stock offer adequate protection? There are two types of UV rays and both cause skin damage and skin cancer. UVA will also prematurely age the skin whereas UVB causes sunburn. Check that the sunscreens you recommend provide both UVA and UVB protection i.e. are “broad spectrum” sunscreens. Note that some moisturisers that include an SPF rating only protect against UVA rays and don’t count as sun protection.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates there are around 500,000 cases of food poisoning each year in the UK. The cases of food poisoning peaks during the summer months partly because of the warmer temperatures affect how we choose to cook and consume food. And because barbeques and picnics are more likely to involve poor food hygiene, they increase the risk of causing food poisoning.
Being proactive in preventing food poisoning is less easy for a pharmacist. More than likely, people will be looking for advice on caring for someone who already has food poisoning. This is the opportunity to discuss good food hygiene habits to prevent a reoccurrence:
- Use a meat thermometer to avoid undercooking meats on the barbeque.
- Don’t use a tea towel to wipe hands: always wash hands after handling raw meat.
- Use different utensils for handling raw and cooked meats to avoid contamination.
- Discard food that hasn’t been refrigerated within fours hours of cooking and all picnic leftovers.
- Use cool packs and cool bags to help refrigerate food whilst on a picnic.
- Keep food in separate, sealable containers to avoid cross-contamination.
Treating food poisoning symptoms
The symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Stomach cramps
- Fever of 38C and above
- Generally unwell with aches, tiredness or chills.
Most cases of food poisoning aren’t serious and can be treated at home with rest, drinking plenty of fluids and using over-the-counter pain relief. As a pharmacy, recommend rehydration sachets to replace lost salts and sugars from diarrhoea and vomiting. It’s also important to advise staying off school or work to prevent spreading any infection.
According to the RNLI’s summer health awareness campaign, “H2Only Challenge” survey, 89% of the British public drink less than the recommended amount of water each day.
Combine this with summertime hot weather and the risk of dehydration goes up. Dehydration occurs when we lose more fluids than we consume. Too much sun or excessive sweating from exercise or being too hot all contribute to dehydration as does drinking alcohol. As being hydrated helps maintain body temperature, dehydration can lead to overheating.
Symptoms of dehydration include thirst, dark coloured or strong smelling pee or urinating infrequently, tiredness, dizziness and dry mouth and eyes.
It’s better to prevent dehydration by increasing the amounts of fluid drunk when at risk of dehydration, such as during hot weather. Treatment for dehydration is to drink water until urine is a pale, clear colour.
Who is more at risk of dehydration?
Children and the elderly are more at risk of dehydration partly because they may be less aware of how much they’re drinking. So, it’s important for people to be vigilant for more vulnerable individuals in their care.
Having diabetes or taking diuretic medication also makes someone more prone to dehydration.
Dehydration among children under-fives and seniors can rapidly lead to serious complications.
Dangers of Dehydration
Heat exhaustion is when the body starts to overheat. Untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to the serious condition of heatstroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include those of dehydration but also include:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Fast breathing and pulse
- Floppiness in children
Anybody suffering from heat exhaustion will need to cool down to prevent their condition worsening. If you suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, you can help cool them down by getting them to:
- Move to a cool place
- Drink plenty of water
- Lie down and elevate their feet slightly
- Use cool water sprays and fans to cool down. Cold packs around the armpits and neck will also help.
However, if their condition does not improve within 30 minutes or worsens they may have heat stroke. Call 999 and treat it as a medical emergency.
Insect Bites & Stings
Being bitten or stung by an insect usually isn’t serious and only a minor annoyance. Occasionally, the bite may become infected or an allergic reaction may occur which complicates things.
- Help prevent insect bites and stings by covering exposed skin, wearing shoes outdoors and using an insect repellent that contains 50% DEET.
- Remove the stinger or tick and wash the area to help prevent any infection.
- Reduce any inflammation or itching from a bite or sting using a cold compress or an antihistamine cream.
- Over-the-counter painkillers and oral antihistamines can also be taken to help treat any pain or mild reactions.
Further medical treatment should be sought if the bite or sting doesn’t improve within a few days, or if the patient experiences any more serious symptoms such as
- Being bitten or stung in the mouth or throat or near the eyes.
- Signs of infection
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Rapid heart rate
- Loss of conscious
Lyme Disease (ticks)
Lyme disease is a rare complication from a tick bite. Most tick bites are harmless but it’s important to properly remove a tick using fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can lay dormant for several weeks but include a circular rash around the bite site and flu-like symptoms.
Does your pharmacy serve a community more at risk of Lyme Disease? Whilst ticks that cause Lyme Disease are found across the UK, the high-risk areas include grassy and wooded parts of southern England and the Scottish Highlands. If so, ensure you stock a tick-removal tool: they’re useful for removing ticks from pets as well.
Travel Essentials for Summer Health
Whether travelling abroad or staying closer to home, staying healthy on holiday is all about preparation. As a pharmacy, you can remind people of the travel essentials they may wish to pack by setting up a display. Here are some items you may wish to include:
- Vaccinations: If you run a travel clinic, let people know about the service.
- Travel sickness: Motion sickness tablets or remedies for nervous flyers.
- Insect repellent: sprays to aid prevention plus creams if bitten or stung. And don’t forget the antimalarials for those visiting more tropical locations.
- Suncare: include water-resistant options for beach and pool use. After-sun lotions to help keep the skin hydrated.
- Pain relief: over-the-counter tablets might be easy to get hold of but it’s always to have a packet ready.
Luggage straps and tags, money belts and portable fans are also useful products as are travel first aid kits. Find out more in this short holiday health training video.
Wanting more ways to get the best from your workforce? Join Mediapharm, and get unlimited access to our training courses, accredited by the GPhC.
This article was written on behalf of Mediapharm by Nicola Hasted from Pharmacy Mentor.