Be aware of these 5 warm weather hazards

Though we are just barely into springtime in Arizona, our weather is getting hotter by the day. Spring and summer, with the longer days and warmer temperatures, are favorite seasons for many of us. We spend more time outdoors and adopt a more active lifestyle. Walks in the park, bicycling along the Loop, swimming, barbecue parties in the back yard, and even doing our own gardening are fun and invigorating. These are seasons with many enjoyable outdoor activities, but we should be aware of the five most common warm weather health hazards.

Accumulated sunburns over a lifetime greatly increase the risk of skin cancer. Many of us boomers remember those days of youth, basking in the sun’s rays without a clue as to the risks. But as we have become aware of the danger, hopefully we have adopted the practice or regular high SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreen use. We should use sunscreen daily, not just for a day poolside or at the beach.

Heat can be a health risk, especially for the youngest and oldest members of our communities. Babies and young children are not able to make behavioral adjustments to warm environments and their bodies are frequently unable to make adaptive changes due to the immaturity of the thermoregulatory system. Elderly persons are at a higher risk for heat related illness due to underlying illnesses, certain medications, and declining physical ability to regulate body temperature.

There might be poor access to adequate air conditioning, limited social support, and declining ability to care for oneself. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are risky and can lead to death if left untreated. Check on elderly neighbors and if necessary, transport them to a cooling center or senior center on those especially hot days. Avoid dehydration by sipping on cool drinks throughout the day.

A walk in the woods or along the river or estuary can be beautiful, relaxing, romantic — and itchy. The most common poisonous plans in Arizona are poison ivy, candelabras cacti, and poison oak. Poison oak is common in the western part of the United States and can be seen as scrub brush or grow as tall as 40 feet and can be found as high as 5,000-feet elevation. There are no leaves in winter, but in the spring it sprouts three green leaves and white flowers before turning the familiar pink-red hue.

Poison ivy is a smaller plant, shrub or climbing vine and also has three distinct leaves that turn reddish pink. Remember the maxim, “leaves of three, leave them be.”

Urushiol, the oily resin in both poison ivy and poison oak leaves can remain on shoes for up to a year. The best prevention is recognition and avoidance. Treatment is usually with antihistamines and cortisone creams but may require more intensive treatment in severe cases.

Candelabras cacti can grow up to 25 feet and produce a milky white substance that also irritates the skin and can be deadly if ingested.

Food poisoning is more common in the summertime. Picnics and potluck gatherings can create that “perfect storm” opportunity for improperly prepared or stored foods to grow bacteria that can cause illness and even death. Avoid food poisoning by keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. This is not too difficult with the various insulated trays and bags available for us. Uneaten foods should be refrigerated immediately after a meal.

Insect bites are a common summer health hazard. Honeybees and bumblebees are not aggressive unless provoked. They leave their stingers embedded in the skin, so treatment consists of careful removal. There is usually not a serious reaction except localized discomfort until the stinger is removed. The vespids — wasps, yellowjackets and hornets — can be more aggressive. Usual reactions include swelling up to 2 inches across within 24 hours.

Systemic reactions include hives, wheezes and bronchospasm similar to an asthmas attack, swelling around the eyes, and swelling and infection at the bite site. These reactions can be mild to life threatening and must be treated as soon as possible after the symptoms are felt. Anyone with an allergy to insect bites should carry an “epi-pen,” an epinephrine injection system that anyone can use to administer life-saving medication while emergency help is on the way.

West Nile virus is becoming commonplace but is no less problematic. Remove all standing water and use mosquito repellent.

Water dangers finish our list of top summer health hazards. Drowning is a leading cause of death in children under the age of 5. Pools need to be fenced or otherwise inaccessible to young children unless supervised. Even adults should always swim with a buddy. Unforeseen events such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or sudden cramping can lead to serious injury in the water or death due to drowning. Our rivers and streams are inviting and cool, but the currents can be treacherous. Swimmers’ ear is a common summer malady prevented by a mixture of (or a commercial preparation) vinegar and alcohol in the ear canal after swimming.

We need to stay aware of the many seasonal health hazards we may potentially face as we enjoy the warmest time of year here. Good health and commonsense practices will make the season more enjoyable and safer.

Mia Smitt is a longtime nurse practitioner who writes a column for Tucson Local Media.

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