Towne Health is a monthly article covering diverse health care topics in the interest of providing information to our fellow residents about important health topics.
By: Penny D’Souza, DO & Terra Wubbenhorst, MD
Summer Health Reminders
Summer time in Texas is coming up, and while that means lots of fun in the sun, it is also time to be aware of common health concerns as the season changes.
Heat related illnesses, including heat exhaustion are common in the summer. Heat exhaustion typically occurs as the temperatures and humidity climb, or with strenuous physical activity, and your body is unable to prevent your inner temperature from rising. If not treated quickly, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can be fatal. The earliest symptoms you are getting overheated are excess sweating, thirst and muscle cramps. If your body is unable to cool itself, you may develop symptoms of heat exhaustion including: weakness, feeling dizzy or faint- particularly with standing, excessive sweating- which may be a cool sweat with goose bumps even in the heat, and a rapid or weak pulse. Other symptoms include headache and nausea.
Keep in mind that children under 4 and adults over 65 years old are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and very young children may not be able to tell you what symptoms they are having. Alcohol, obesity and excess clothing/sports padding may also impair your body’s ability to cool down. Certain medications used to treat heart disease or blood pressure (diuretics and beta blockers) may impair your body’s ability to respond to the increased heat, as well as certain medications like antihistamines, sedatives and antipsychotic medications. Infections and dehydration also can lead to increased risk of heat exhaustion.
If you suspect that you or someone you are with has heat exhaustion, make sure to stop all activity and move to a shaded or cool location. If possible take a cool shower or bath, or loosen/remove clothing. Be sure to drink plenty of cool water or sports drinks, which can also help replace electrolytes lost from sweating. If you have an oral temperature greater than 104 degrees, feel like passing out or if symptoms are not improving within an hour, you should seek medical attention right away.
The best way to prevent heat exhaustion is to be prepared. If the heat index is 91 degrees or higher: wear light/loose fitting clothing, drink plenty of fluids (avoiding excess alcohol), seek shade, and rest when able. And remember to never leave children in parked cars- even with windows open or the engine running.
Zika virus is still a concern this summer. It is not known how much it will spread this year, but based on what was seen in Brazil, it’s important to remain vigilant. Zika causes a mild illness (fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes) or no symptoms at all in most people infected, but the effects on fetuses are especially worrisome. Microcephaly (a significantly smaller head than comparable children of the same age that can lead to developmental issues) has been associated with Zika exposure in the womb and it is not clear if other neurological issues may be associated with the virus. Expectant mothers need to take precautions against infection, such as mosquito repellent w/ DEET, wearing pants and long sleeve clothing and limiting standing water around your house that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitos. It is also important to know that Zika can be spread through sexual contact and if there is concern about possible exposure in a sexual partner to use protection. Also, anyone traveling to an area where Zika is known to be spreading should take precautions. For more information, check out: http://texaszika.org/index.htm
With all the news about Zika, it is easy to forget about the other diseases that mosquitos spread. West Nile Virus has already been reported in Montgomery County this year and can cause severe neurological symptoms in some cases.
For updates, visit the Texas Dept. of State Health Services’ website: http://dshs.texas.gov.
If traveling this summer, be sure to check the CDC website for any health notifications for your travel destination. Certain precautions may be necessary, such as certain vaccinations. Be sure to pack any medications you take on a regular basis and keep them in a bag you will keep with you throughout the trip. It can be difficult to get replacement medications, especially outside the country. Also, if you’re worried about the dreaded traveler’s diarrhea, you may want to pack some pepto-bismol (or any generic with the active ingredient bismuth subsalicylate), as well. It has been shown that taking 2 tablets four times a day can decrease one’s chances of getting traveler’s diarrhea. If that seems like too much, you may want to pack it anyway – taking it after the onset of GI distress may help shorten symptoms.
Sunscreen is important, especially in south Texas. Be sure to lather up before heading outdoors and to wear protective clothing, eyewear, and headgear and to seek out shade when available. It is important to make sure your sunscreen protects against both UVA & UVB (broad-spectrum coverage). Also, the American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org) recommends using SPF 30 or higher (SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays, but no sunscreen blocks 100%). It is important to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours because the sunscreen loses its effectiveness over time and after sun exposure. Water-resistant sunscreens are available and should be reapplied every 40-80 minutes, depending on the product’s labeling. (if you stay dry, follow the 2 hour rule). No sunscreen is waterproof. Sunscreen is not recommended for children 6 months of age or younger and small children may need a product for sensitive skin (look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide containing products). Keep in mind that “sensitive skin” is a term not defined for sunscreen by the FDA.
Dr. D’Souza is a Towne Lake resident and board certified cardiologist practicing in Northwest Houston. Her professional interests include women’s health, heart disease prevention and heart failure.
Dr. Wubbenhorst is a Towne Lake resident and board certified anesthesiologist with fellowship training in critical care. She currently practices in West Houston.
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