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Heat Wave: How to Stay Healthy as Temperatures Rise

Summer seems like the season when we should be most carefree. But it actually is associated with a spike in injuries and illnesses, statistics show.

“A lot of it is related to the heat, the sun and accidents,” said Andrew Savin, M.D., an internist with Bethesda Hospital Physician Group in Wellington. “Maybe it’s because kids are out of school. You get a lot of sprains, strains, broken bones and accidents — car accidents, bike accidents, boat accidents, motorcycle accidents.”

While no one can prevent every mishap, it helps to take precautions and, most of all, use common sense. “When people are hot, they don’t always think things through,” Dr. Savin said.

Summer is just starting. Here are a few things to keep in mind as temperatures rise.

  1. Eat With Caution
    Before you dive into the potato salad — or any other dish at the backyard or beach barbecue — consider how long it has been sitting out. Foodborne illnesses peak in the summer, when temperatures cause bacteria to flourish. Although some guidelines estimate that food can be left out for about two hours, that doesn’t apply to summer in South Florida. “I wouldn’t even leave it out an hour,” said Dr. Savin, who advised particular caution with any salads or dishes that contain mayonnaise. Practice good food hygiene by washing surfaces and utensils after each use, cooking meats thoroughly, refrigerating food promptly and taking efforts not to contaminate anything with the juices from raw meats. And when in doubt, throw it out. “I’ve had patients say, ‘Yeah, it tasted a little funny but I ate it anyway,’” Dr. Savin said. “Then they get sick.”
  2. Stay Cool and Hydrated
    Your body normally cools itself naturally through sweating, but sometimes that’s not enough. Heat-related illnesses — including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke — occur when a person’s temperature rises to dangerous levels and body fluids are thrown off. Heat stroke is most prevalent in older adults, but even the young and healthy can be affected. Listen to your body. Pace yourself, drink more water than usual and limit outdoor activities when the heat and humidity feel unbearable. Certain medications and chronic conditions, such as heart disease, poor circulation and obesity, can hinder a person’s ability to cool down. “Older people and people on blood pressure medication or diuretics get out into the heat and they may faint,” Dr. Savin said. “They can injure themselves, or worse.”
  3. Watch the Water
    Although it may look refreshing, water can make you sick. Public swimming areas can harbor bacteria that cause gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye and wound infections. Bacteria can live for days, even in properly chlorinated pools. Splash areas and interactive fountains also pose a risk. “They try to keep most of these places clean, but it can be tough,” Dr. Savin said. Natural bodies of water, especially ponds and lakes, may be compromised by runoff, sewage spills and animal waste. Or, as we saw along the Florida coast last year, algae blooms may proliferate in the summer and cause a toxic red tide. Be conscious of the water quality before you jump in. And regardless of where you swim, teach children to keep their mouth closed and to avoid swallowing water.
  4. Buzz Off
    Those pesky mosquitoes don’t just cause itchy bites. They can also transfer a number of diseases, including West Nile virus, Zika, dengue and chikungunya. Protect your family with insect repellent, which is considered safe for even pregnant women and babies older than 2 months. Read the label carefully. For best effectiveness, select a repellent registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and be sure it offers the right strength and protection for the amount of time you’ll be outdoors. Do not apply to children’s hands, which often end up in their mouth or eyes. Apply the sunscreen first, followed by repellent.
  5. Respect the ‘Old School’ Rules
    Make sure those newly independent teens know and follow the rules for driving safely — car accidents have a huge uptick in summer. Wear safety gear when biking, boating, skating or enjoying any other activity. Wear sunscreen every day and reapply often, especially when swimming or sweating outdoors. Never leave children alone or in the care of another child around water. At gatherings, assign an adult the specific job of focusing on the kids rather than socializing. Accidents happen in seconds. In other words, don’t let your good instincts go on vacation just because it’s summer.