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The Top 7 Summer Health Hazards

Beach days and BBQ dinners are great, but here's what you need to know to stay safe in summer, too.

3. Dehydration Disasters

You've romped outdoors with the kids all day, and your water bottle ran dry long ago. Suddenly you feel dizzy and lightheaded, and your mouth tastes like cotton. You're dehydrated -- meaning you haven't taken in enough fluids to replace those you've been sweating out.

People can get dehydrated any time of year, but it's much more common in the summer months, when they are active outdoors in the warm sun. Heatstroke is the most severe form of dehydration. That's when your internal temperature rises to dangerously high levels. Your skin gets hot, but you stop sweating. Someone with heatstroke may pass out, have hallucinations, or suffer seizures.

Preventing dehydration and heatstroke couldn't be easier: Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, take regular breaks in the shade, and try to schedule your most vigorous outdoor activities for times when the heat isn't so strong, such as early morning or late afternoon.

For persons suffering more serious dehydration or heatstroke, get them indoors, have them lie down, and cool them off with ice packs and cool cloths. Someone who is seriously affected by the heat may need intravenous fluids in the ER.

4. Sunburn Snafus

With all the skin cancer warnings, you'd think Americans would be getting fewer sunburns, not more. But you'd be wrong. The percentage of adults nationwide who got at least one sunburn during the preceding year rose from 31.8% in 1999 to 33.7% in 2004, according to the CDC.

Your risk for melanoma doubles if you've had just five sunburns in your life. "A sunburn is a first-degree burn, right up there with thermal burns," says Stanton. "And we even see some second-degree thermal burns, often when people are out drinking or falling asleep in the sun and don't realize how long they've been out there."

In addition to practicing "safe sun" -- wearing sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays, long-sleeved shirts, and wide-brimmed hats, and staying out of blistering midday rays -- there are things you can do to treat a severe sunburn, Stanton says:

  • Drink water or juice to replace fluids you lost while sweating in the hot sun.
  • Soak the burn in cool water for a few minutes or put a cool, wet cloth on it.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen.
  • Treat itching with an OTC antihistamine cream or a spray like diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl), which helps block the inflammatory reaction.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment or an aloe cream with emollients that soften and soothe the skin directly to the burned area.

"You're going to have a pretty miserable 12 to 24 hours with the initial symptoms no matter what you do," Stanton warns.

5. Picnic Poisoning

Food poisoning puts about 300,000 people in the hospital every year, hitting its peak in the summer months. You don't want diarrhea to be the souvenir of your family's annual summer picnic.

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