Summer health

Sunburn

Most of us enjoy spending time in the sun, but, despite the advice, it still seems we can still be prone to overdoing exposure to the sun’s rays. It’s easy to underestimate your time in the sun and not realise you’re getting burnt.

While sunburn is usually short-lived and mild, it’s important to avoid it because it can increase the chances of developing skin cancer in later life.

The first thing to do if you or your child has sunburn is to get out of direct sunlight as soon as possible.

Cool skin by sponging it with cool water or by having a cool bath or shower – applying a cold compress to the affected area may also help.

Drink plenty of fluids to bring temperature down and prevent dehydration.

Apply a water-based cream, emollient or petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) to keep skin cool and moist. If necessary, take painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.

Try to avoid all sunlight, including through windows, by covering up the affected areas of skin until your skin has fully healed.

You should contact your GP or call NHS 111 for advice if:

  • the sunburn is over a large area
  • there is blistering or swelling of the skin
  • you have chills or a high temperature of 38C or above, or 37.5C or above in children under five
  • there are symptoms of dizziness, headaches and feeling sick (possible heat exhaustion)

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion causes extreme tiredness as a result of a decrease in blood pressure and blood volume. It’s caused by a loss of body fluids after being exposed to heat for a prolonged period of time.

Someone with heat exhaustion will feel sick, faint and sweat heavily. They should go immediately to a cool place and drink plenty of water. Remove excess clothing and you should start to feel better within half an hour with no long-term complications.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a more serious condition than heat exhaustion and occurs when the body’s temperature becomes dangerously high. The body is no longer able to cool itself and starts to overheat.

Groups more at risk of developing heatstroke are:

  • children under two
  • very elderly people
  • people with kidney, heart or circulation problems
  • people with diabetes

Signs of heatstroke include dry skin, vertigo, confusion, headache, thirst, nausea, rapid shallow breathing (hyperventilation) and muscle cramps.

Suspected heatstroke should always be regarded as an emergency, and you should dial 999 to request an ambulance.

While waiting for the ambulance you should:

  • immediately move the person to a cool area
  • increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan
  • give water to drink (if the person is conscious), but don’t give them medication such as aspirin or paracetamol
  • shower skin with cool, but not cold, water (15–18°C); alternatively, cover their body with cool, damp towels or sheets

Left untreated, heatstroke can lead to complications, such as brain damage and organ failure. It’s also possible to die from heatstroke.

There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting heat exhaustion and heatstroke:

  • stay out of hot sun, particularly between 11am and 3pm
  • walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat
  • avoid extreme physical exertion
  • have plenty of cold drinks, but avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content
  • take a cool shower, bath or body wash
  • sprinkle water over your skin or clothing or keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck

Passport and paracetamol?

Going on holiday is exciting, with lots of things to plan, but taking certain essential items can help maximise your time in the sun. It may not be top of your planning list alongside passport and tickets, but a visit your local pharmacy before heading off either home or abroad should feature in your preparations.

Firstly, talk to your local pharmacist if you are on medication for a condition such as asthma, diabetes or a heart problem, to find out if you need a repeat prescription to take with you.

Secondly, put together a basic first aid kit to deal with any minor health issues while you’re away. Again, your pharmacy can help with that.

Putting these two things on your holiday ‘to do’ list will avoid unnecessary worries or time spent buying medicines or other first-aid supplies whilst you’re away. The last thing you want to be doing while you’re on holiday is searching around for painkillers, antihistamines or plasters.

A basic first aid kit will help with minor ailments, such as stomach upsets, allergies, headaches, sunburn, insect bites, aches and sprains and strains. The really useful interactive first aid kit guide on the NHS Choices website can help ensure you have everything you need, or talk to your local pharmacy for advice.

If you’re travelling in Europe be sure to take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), available free on the EHIC website. It will enable you to access state-provided healthcare across most of Europe at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free. It will also cover treatment until you return to the UK.

Before going abroad, be sure to check the rules about the types and quantities of medicines you are allowed to take. Some medicines available over the counter in the UK may be controlled in other countries and vice versa.

Don’t let allergies take the spring out of your step

Spring and summer are the time of year when allergies such as asthma, eczema and hay fever can get much worse, with symptoms including sneezing, coughing, skin rashes and shortness of breath.

But there’s no need to get bogged down by runny noses, itchy eyes, irritated skin and tickly throats.

Allergy sufferers can prepare for the spring and summer months by getting the medicines they need from their local pharmacist – who can also offer expert advice to help people manage their health during warmer months.

If symptoms persist, despite the use of over-the-counter medicines, you should get in touch with your GP who may then offer tests to identify the cause.

For more information about hay fever and allergies, visit the NHS Choices website

We all like a sunny day…

…and the opportunities that nice weather brings for activities, outdoor living, fresh air and fun.

When thinking about laid back, sunny days it’s easy to switch off to messages about health risks but there’s a real chance that you or someone you know could be negatively affected by the heat. Children and babies, older people and those with long-term health conditions – especially heart and breathing problems — are particularly at risk.

Hot days and warm nights can have a significant effect on health. The main risks are:

  • dehydration
  • overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing
  • heat exhaustion and heat stroke
  • sunburn

Knowing how to keep cool and manage health conditions during hot weather can save lives.

Those most likely to be affected are:

  • older people, especially over 75
  • babies and young children
  • people with a serious condition, especially heart or breathing problems
  • people with mobility problems e.g. people with Parkinson’s disease or those who have had a stroke
  • people on certain medications, including those that affect sweating and temperature control
  • people who misuse alcohol or drugs
  • people who are physically active – at work or leisure

To stay cool and reduce health risks:

  • Stay out of direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day). Always use a sunscreen with a high protection factor.
  • Have cool baths or showers or splash yourself with cool water. Placing your wrists under cool running water can help.
  • Drink cold drinks regularly, such as water and fruit juice. Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol.
  • Wear loose, cool clothing and a hat outdoors.
  • Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be less able to look after themselves.

If someone feels unwell, get them somewhere cool to rest and give them plenty of water to drink. Seek medical help if symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, confusion, weakness or dizziness don’t go away.

More information is available on the NHS Choices website and you can call NHS 111 24/7 for further advice.