Summer inescapably evokes a host of pleasurable feelings, from basking in the sun on the beach to strolling on an expanse of freshly-cut grass. While the season to be cheery certainly has its perks—increased sun exposure bolsters mood-enhancing serotonin levels, for one—the footloose and fancy-free months don’t arrive without potential perils.
The lot of us are well-aware of common hazards—from sunburn to salmonella—but what about the others lurking beneath the shimmery surface of summer?
Here are eight dangers to be mindful of during the year’s sultriest months.
8 Summer Health Issues
1. Hazard: Jellyfish Stings
The water may be luminous—and the feeling of immersing in it downright glorious.
But a sudden, all-encompassing sting that sends you hightailing it for shore?
One culprit may be a jellyfish sting.
Whether it’s a Black Sea Nettle off the California Coast, or a Portuguese Man o’ War when wading in Hawaiian waters (not technically a jellyfish, but a siphonophore, or group of animals that float, and operate, in unison), one fact remains: Stings straight-up hurt.
This is due to the venom that’s released from their tentacles, which house thousands of infinitesimal barbed stingers. While aimed at paralyzing and killing small fish, this toxic substance can elicit a cornucopia of reactions in a human being, with welts, swelling, itching and irritation chief among them. Vexing? Definitely—but more severe symptoms can also include difficulty breathing, stomach pain, fainting and even death.
Help: In addition to utilizing common sense when entering any body of water, such as skipping a dip in the ocean when jellyfish have washed up on the shore, swimming and wading in clear water, and keeping an eye out for lifeguard flags warning of the possible presence of them, consider wearing protective clothing and getting a handle on the types of jellyfish (and other aquatic creatures) that might be in your environs, as the severity of a sting is contingent upon the type, and size, of the jellyfish.
Should you get stung, clean out the tentacles with a tweezer, soak in hot water for 20 to 45 minutes, and pay close attention to acute reactions, which can take up to several hours to emerge. If they do, seek medical attention immediately.
As for a Portuguese Man o’ War sting? Conflicting solutions, from flushing the infected area with urine to covering it with meat tenderizer, abound. The ocean-goers over at Oahu CPR, however, caution against these measures, as it may cause the siphonophore to release even more toxins in defense or result in an infection. Rather, clean the wound with fresh water, remove the tentacles with gloves or a tool, and rinse with fresh water again.
2. Hazard: Grilling too close to your home
Few things say—or, really, shout—summer like a backyard barbeque filled with your family and friends.
As delightful as it may be, where you set up your grilling station for those shish kebabs and veggie burgers are of utmost importance.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, placing your grill too close to your home—as well as tree branches, eaves, and deck railings—can cause overheating and, thus, a fire. In fact, 9,000 fires per year are due to grilling—an alarming number that reaches its acme during July.
Help: Enjoy the scent of meat and veggies on the barbie…from a distance of at least 10 feet away from your home and any other possible threats.
3. Hazard: Coral wounds
Splurging on a vacation near the sea, or happen to live in a tropical or subtropical region?
Watch your limbs, and particularly your feet: Coming into contact with coral can lead to an abrasion and/or an infection.
Indeed, several years ago, a client came to me weeks after knocking her big toe against a piece of coral. Thinking it was nothing more than a minor injury, she disregarded it. Eventually, though, she had to see a podiatrist, who not only had to remove the residual debris from her foot but also perform surgery because the infection had spread to the bone. Further, she had to receive intravenous antibiotics—some coral wounds, after all, may leave you with bacteria in your skin.
Help: With its vibrant colors and unique formations, coral is unquestionably enticing. And yet, avoiding contact with coral should be averted—not only because of possible cuts (keep in mind that coral is sharp) but also for environmental reasons.
If you inadvertently get cut by coral, wash the area with warm, soapy water or Hibiclense immediately following contact. Follow this with an anti-bacterial cream.
Concerned you have an infection? Pursue medical attention immediately—especially if the redness is accompanied by blisters and/or travels up your extremities.
4. Hazard: Imbibing in the sun
Which brings us to our next point…
Summer is often synonymous with frozen cocktails savored by a pool, or an ice-cold brew with a cadre of friends.
As fun as it may sound to some, do know that it comes with possible consequences. Alcohol causes dehydration, and this—what with its headaches, parched mouth and dizziness—only becomes exacerbated in the heat.
Additionally, alcohol, which is a diuretic, keeps your body from tapping into its natural water stores for replenishment, as it provokes the body to urinate and perspire more. Further, drinking alcohol may make you forget how long you’ve been lounging in the sun, which could lead to sunburn and heat stroke.
Help: If you choose to soak up the sun with a glass of sangria in hand, ensure you’ve eaten a healthy snack before or during your shindig, curb your consumption, drink plenty of water and, when possible, socialize in the shade.
5. Hazard: Snakes
Some of us are terrified of snakes—to the point that we may have what’s known as ophidiophobia—while others may not give them a second thought.
The solution, however, may be in the balance of the two extremes: The Department of Wildlife & Ecology at the University of Florida reports that 7,000-8,000 people in the U.S. are bitten by snakes each year.
While most of these bites are ultimately inconsequential—indeed, only five to six people from this grand number die of snake bites—they are nonetheless daunting and painful, with possible complications ranging from respiratory problems to tissue necrosis.
Help: Whether you’re hiking, camping, or simply at home, dodge snakes by staying to the trails, resisting the urge to overturn rocks, and keeping the doors of your home—and tent—firmly closed.
If you happen to get bitten by a snake, head to your nearest Urgent Care or the ER: As the Cleveland Clinic says, “every snake bite should be considered an emergency” and “any delay in treatment following a venomous snake bite could result in serious injury or, in worst-case scenarios, death.”
6. Hazard: Staph infections
Staph infections—traditionally known as Staphylococcus—are characterized by a horde of unsettling symptoms, from fever and chills to skin sores and boils.
Caused by an array of reasons, including unclean towels and contaminated wounds, Staph can result in a number of health concerns. Gangrene, abscesses, organ damage, infections of the heart, urinary tract and joints—all can occur if Staph, which increases significantly during the summer months and fall, is left untreated. This is especially true if you have a compromised immune system.
Help: Do your best to evade a Staph infection by taking several effortless steps: Wash your hands regularly—a task that should be second nature in our post-pandemic era—bathe after exercising, and don’t share items such as clothing, towels, razors and cosmetics.
Further, if you have an open wound—say, a cut, or a sore—stay out of the ocean (where Staph is often contracted) and make sure the wound is clean and covered.
7. Hazard: Muscle cramps
Surfing, swimming, softball, hiking, rafting, horseback riding—summer is lush with a range of exhilarating outdoor activities.
And yet, those muscle cramps you’re experiencing? They may be due to more than exercise alone.
Muscle cramps—either searing pain or a dull ache, frequently felt in your thighs and calves—are a hallmark of dehydration, which can occur at any time of year but is the most common during the sunnier months of summer.
As mercury rises, so does your blood volume. To be more exact, your body pumps a higher quantity of blood to your skin, which causes you to sweat, thereby cooling you off. But if the heat is extreme? Your core temperature may skyrocket, and your heart goes into exertion as it pumps blood to arouse a sweat response.
Dizziness, decreased urination, a rapid heart rate, extreme thirst, fatigue—and, yes, muscle cramps—can ensue as your body retreats into survival mode, saving your water stores for your most vital organs while depleting other parts of your body, namely your muscles and digestive system, of the hydration and electrolytes they need to perform well. And while dehydration may seem trivial, severe cases can be life-threatening—particularly for the elderly.
Help: In addition to guaranteeing that you’re drinking at least eight glasses of water per day—and more when you’re exercising in heat and humidity—consider electrolytes and salt tabs that are lost through excessive sweating. Electrolytes include magnesium, potassium, chloride, sodium and can help along with salt tablets. (They’re also an excellent alternative to sports drinks, which tend to be jam-packed with sugar.) Want to try? Consider mineral drops or sodium tablets.
Also, add water-rich fruits and vegetables to your diet. Celery, cucumbers, honeydew, strawberries, grapefruit, cantaloupe—all can help you stave off dehydration while giving you a boost of antioxidants while they’re at it.
8. Hazard: Crash dieting
With bikini season upon us, you may be tempted to shed several pounds to shimmy into that new swimsuit.
In a word: Don’t.
Crash dieting—in which you drastically reduce your caloric intake—can cause more harm than good.
A disconcerting dearth of the vitamins and nutrients you need to function optimally on a daily basis, which can impact everything from the luster of your hair and nails to the suppleness of your skin.
What’s more, most of the weight you lose on a crash diet is water weight; meaning, it will return, and sometimes with a vengeance, once you resume eating normally—crash diets, in the end, are untenable.
In addition, radically restricting your food consumption can weaken your immunity, lower your metabolism, leave you anxious, blue and irritable, and rob you of energy. And don’t you want you all the vivacity you have for your fun-in-the-sun excursions?
Help: If you’re determined to get lean, eat clean. Pile your plate with healthy protein, such as chicken, turkey and eggs, fresh, non-starchy vegetables (think: asparagus, kale and broccoli), antioxidant-rich fruits like cherries, blueberries and watermelon, and good fats such as avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds. At the same time, eschew foods that come out of a package, as they’re often processed with high amounts of trans fat, sodium and sugar, hydrate well, and exercise daily.
Most of all? Remember that body confidence comes from within—and that nothing looks better than health and happiness.