Monday, 27 September 2021

Summer’s coming, so stay cool and healthy

WITH all the hot weather we’ve been having recently, I am going to look at the impact that a warm summer might have on our health (cue thunderstorms and rain).

Many associate summer with some of the finer things in life — trips to the coast, beautiful clear skies, Henley Royal Regatta, Pimm’s and a high concentration of bank holidays.

For others, it means unbearable heat, vicious sunburn, stifling sleepless nights, sun cream all over your clothes and the long, agonising wait for the start of the new football season.

In order to enjoy the positive aspects, I have put together some tips on staying healthy through the change in environment during these warmer months.

Let us start with how our bodies regulate heat. The word homeostasis is used to describe the way the body maintains balance in various processes, including electrolytes in the blood and blood pressure.

Part of this homeostatic balance, however, is related to thermoregulation. In other words, the body’s constant battle to keep its core temperature stable within quite fine margins — around 37.0 degrees on average.

Any higher or lower than ideal and this begins to affect many of the normal processes going on in the body at any one time. For example, diabetics tend to absorb more insulin in warmer weather, so a closer eye on insulin doses is required.

Our main tactic in controlling temperature, at least in losing heat, is through the process of sweating. As we sweat, the water from our tissues takes heat from beneath the skin and the heat energy is lost as the sweat then evaporates.

It stands to reason, therefore, that in warmer weather we sweat more and so our requirements for fluid go up. Normally we should be drinking six to eight glasses of water each day (about 1.2 litres) but in warmer weather, we should increase this to allow for the extra fluid loss.

It is no surprise that summer is kidney stone season with twice as many presentations when compared with the winter months. This is partly due to greater rates of dehydration but also because you produce more vitamin D as your skin gets more sun exposure, which increases calcium absorption and promotes the build-up of these stones in the kidneys.

Although we are not particularly hairy when compared with most mammals, the small hairs that cover our skin also help in the process. If our body decides it needs to lose heat, signals from the hypothalamus in the brain prompt the hairs to flatten across our skin. Conversely, if we need to warm up, the hairs stand on end (hence goosebumps), thus creating a tiny layer of air trapped in among them to warm us up a bit.

If we are getting too hot, our heart rate tends to speed up in order to speed the circulation from the core out to the peripheries where the heat can be transferred from the body through our skin.

So we have some in-built mechanisms to prevent ourselves from becoming overheated but sometimes these are not enough.

Heat stroke can be nasty and causes headaches, dizziness, confusion, cramps and pale, clammy skin. If this happens on a warm day, lie down in a cool, shaded place, try to cool the skin with water and a fan and drink lots of water or rehydration solutions (you can get these over the counter at any pharmacy or supermarket and they are good to have handy, particularly on holidays in the sun). If this is not improving things within half an hour, or if you are concerned, you must seek urgent medical attention.

To keep cool in general, avoid prolonged exposure to the sun (fairly obvious), wear a hat to provide some shade, make sure you are well-hydrated and avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can dehydrate you.

At night, warm temperatures can really disrupt sleep, leaving you tired the next day. If flipping the pillow to the cool side isn’t quite cutting it, you could try the following:

When you get up, close the blinds and keep windows closed all day if it is hot outside to prevent heat building up inside.

Avoid a heavy meal before bedtime, especially spicy food.

Drink cold water but not ice-cold as sometimes this can confuse the body’s normal heat- losing measures.

Have a tepid shower before bed.

Use light, cotton bedding.

Improve air flow with a fan.

Put your bedding in a bag in the freezer for a bit so it is extra cool at bedtime.

Summer’s drawbacks are not always directly related to heat, though.

The other big drawback is hay fever. This is a real menace for many people and ranges from the very mild to the debilitating. The most severe cases require specialist input with immunotherapy.

It is not a new problem and even as far back as the 9th century, numerous remedies were put forward, some more successful than others.

Classically, hay fever causes sneezing, coughing, a runny nose and itchy eyes but it can manifest itself in other ways, such as loss of smell, headaches around the temples and forehead and tiredness.

To treat these, your best option is over-the-counter remedies such as anti-histamines and eye drops but you can alleviate some of the symptoms even more by: following these steps:

Putting vaseline under your nose.

Not drying your clothes outside (so they don’t pick up pollen).

Keeping the windows shut and, if possible, staying indoors on days with a high pollen count.

Using wraparound sunglasses.

Vacuuming and dusting regularly.

Fitting pollen filters to your car’s air conditioning.

Hopefully, the negatives of summer are outweighed by the positives and if you follow the above steps it will make things even easier on your body.

In some cases, the sun can even improve things. Those with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis will see an improvement in their symptoms due to the increased UV exposure.

However, you should still protect your skin from the sun as much as possible. Sun cream is essential and, if you neglect it, in later life you will be far more prone to damaged and unhealthy skin, not to mention a far greater risk of skin cancer. You have been warned.

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