Avoiding Summer Hazards

By Dr. Rena Daiza

July 1, 2022

Beautiful Michigan summer is finally upon us. Summer is typically a relaxed time to enjoy the outdoors and catch up on that vitamin D we were missing all winter long. But with the change in weather and increased outdoor activity comes certain hazards to be aware of. This can include heat-related illnesses, sunburns, and water accidents.

Heat exhaustion is when your body is literally overheating. If you are ever in the unfortunate situation where you have been exposed to high heat for a time and notice heavy sweating accompanied by a rapid heart rate, it’s important to immediately stop all physical activity and seek cooling shelter. Your body needs rest and hydration.

If you fail to pay attention to the warning signs, you could find yourself having a heat stroke – the most serious of heat-related illnesses. Heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature. The sweating mechanism fails, and the body just can’t cool down. This is a medical emergency requiring an immediate trip to the Emergency Room.

You can still have fun in the sun but should know your risk level. Children and older adults who are not used to high temperatures are more susceptible to heat-related illness. To avoid succumbing to the heat, reserve outdoor physical activities for mornings or evenings when the weather is coolest, wear flowy, lightweight clothing as opposed to tight and heavy outfits, and stay adequately hydrated.

We all love being out in the sun, but too much exposure can cause long-term health risks. Being in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time can cause skin cells to die, damage, or develop cancer. Sunburn causes your skin to turn red but often we don’t notice until after the fact. Even if you are dark complected with tons of melatonin in your skin, you can still sustain sun damage.

Sun damage includes skin changes such as moles, wrinkles, and age spots. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun that cause sunburn can also lower our immune system when white blood cells are busy trying to repair the damage. UV rays can also cause damage to the retina of your eye; avoid looking directly at bright sunlight.

To avoid overexposure to sunlight, apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF (sun protection factor) regularly and generously – even on cloudy days, and avoid midday sun exposure when possible. You can also wear clothing such as hats or long sleeve cover-ups. It’s much easier to avoid sunburn than to treat it; you usually have to wait until the burn peels to shed the damaged skin. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.

We love our summer gatherings – especially barbecues, lake parties, and picnics – but food left out sitting in the sun too long can harm us. If certain foods such as meat or dairy are left unrefrigerated for any length of time, bacterial growth can make them unsafe for consumption, sometimes leading to food poisoning. To avoid that risk, follow a few simple guidelines like using a cooler to hold perishable items and keep them from heat, and disposing of food that has been out in the heat for more than an hour or two. It’s also important when grilling to use a meat thermometer to make sure food (especially chicken and pork) are cooked thoroughly.

With fun and sun, you sometimes get wet. Swimming is definitely a summertime pursuit here in Michigan with our abundant lakes and pools; the state is surrounded on three sides by water! Water sports are some of the most fun summer activities but also can be the most dangerous if precautions are not taken. Boating mishaps are unfortunately all too common but so are swimming accidents.

Some swimming safety tips include not leaving children unsupervised near water, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption (which leads to poor judgement), staying out of the water during thunderstorms with lightning, knowing where to dive safely (NOT in shallow water), and having at least one responsible adult who knows CPR present. God forbid you should have to use it; it just might save a life.

With sensible precautions, there is no reason why you and your family can’t enjoy all that sunshine has to offer while avoiding health hazards. After all, we’ve been waiting for summer all year!

Dr. Rena Daiza is a family care practitioner at Henry Ford Health. She is a proud member of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce and is the founder of their Chaldean Women’s Committee.