You & Your Health: Summer Sickness

We all look forward to the summer months, but minor ailments and seasonal mishaps can quickly dampen your summer fun.

An appointment with your GP is often the first thought when you’re feeling unwell. But for many everyday minor health issues, your community pharmacist can see you without an appointment.

Here are some common summer ailments that your pharmacist can help with.

Insect bites and stings

More time spent outdoors in summer means you’re more likely to be bitten or stung by bugs. Insect bites and stings usually show up as red, swollen lumps that are itchy or painful. Remove the sting if possible, wash the affected area, apply a cold compress and avoid scratching it.

Most are not serious and will get better within a few hours or days. However, some people can have an allergic reaction, where a larger area around the sting or bite gets red and swollen. In the most severe cases, you can develop breathing problems, dizziness or a swollen face/mouth. Seek immediate medical help if these symptoms occur.

If a sting or bite is bothering you, your pharmacist can recommend appropriate topical creams and antihistamines to take away the itch.

Hay fever

Those who suffer from hay fever know the symptoms all too well. Sneezing and coughing, red, itchy or watery eyes, headaches and a runny or blocked nose that plagues you for weeks or months at a time.

It’s worse when the weather is warm, humid and windy – that’s when the pollen count is at its highest.

There is no cure for hay fever and you can’t prevent it, but you can ease symptoms. Some useful tips include putting Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen, wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes, and showering and changing your clothes after being outside.

Your pharmacist can supply over-the-counter antihistamines as well as steroid nasal sprays. Non-drowsy antihistamines like loratadine are generally the best option as they’re less likely to make you feel sleepy.

Sunburn

You usually know if you’ve got sunburn – your skin will be red and sore ranging from mild to blistering. After sunburn, your skin may start to peel. This is a sign that your body is trying to rid itself of damaged cells.

But the danger goes far beyond any short-term pain, redness and discomfort. Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your chances of developing skin cancer.

It’s easy to reduce your risk of skin cancer by practicing sun safety. Your local pharmacy should stock a range of suncream and aftersun lotions.

Choose a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB filters. UVA protection is measured with a star rating, with five stars being the best. UVB is measured by SPF. It is recommended that the SPF be at least 30 and reapplied regularly – not just at the beach or the pool but every day! The sun’s UV rays can be just as harmful on cloudy days.

Cover up with hats and loose clothing and stay out of direct sunlight when it is the hottest (11am-3pm).

If you have blisters along with a high temperature, shivers, vomiting or tiredness, you could have heatstroke. Call NHS 111 for more advice.

Prickly heat

Humidity and heat can clog the sweat glands, causing that irritating prickly red rash. It’s advised to wear loose clothing, use lightweight bedding and take cool showers or baths to prevent prickly heat. A cool compress can ease the itch, and avoid scratching skin or using perfumed lotions.

Your pharmacist can provide over-the-counter treatments like calamine lotion, hydrocortisone and antihistamines to relieve the itching.

Tummy troubles

It’s barbecue season, and with it comes the risk of food poisoning or diarrhoea caused by food, especially meat, not being fully cooked or kept cold.

Food poisoning has symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, cramps and a high temperature. Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration. Your pharmacist should stock oral rehydration sachets and medication to control diarrhoea.