(WellnessNova.com) - From splashing in lakes and pools to enjoying a backyard cookout, outdoor activities make the summer season sizzle with fun. But summer’s favorite pastimes can also be catalysts for trouble. Plant life, spoiled food, too much sun, and seasonal insects can lead to uncomfortable rashes, bug bites, and illnesses that keep you indoors.
Sure, you can slop on all kinds of protection to try to escape some of the season’s harms, but many conventional preventatives aren’t safe, healthy, or even effective. So what’s the alternative?
Why not avoid summer health hazards the natural way, without the use of chemical-laden lotions and treatments. You’ll ward off problems before they happen, be good to your body, and have more time to enjoy a favorite season that goes by too quickly. Natural prevention is simple and cost-effective, too. So what have you got to lose — other than all that itching and discomfort?
Here are a few natural ways to avoid summertime dangers:
1. Avoid Dehydration by Staying Hydrated
Being overheated and sweating more than usual can cause you to lose significant fluids along with salts and minerals that your body needs. When this happens, dehydration sets in. Summer is prime time for activities that promote dehydration, like exercising in warm temperatures.
Dehydration is nothing to take lightly. Symptoms range from thirst and dry mouth to dizziness, palpitations, and fainting. You can even suffer heat stroke, a serious condition that can damage the brain and other internal organs.
Fortunately, preventing dehydration is simple: take precautions and be aware of your body’s signals. Drinking fluids, especially water, is the number one way to avoid dehydration.
Mayo Clinic guidelines suggest following the 8 by 8 rule, which says drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If you exercise, you’ll want to drink more—at least one-and-a-half cups for short bouts of exercise. If you exercise in heat, drink even more. Choose nutrient-infused waters, like coconut water, over sports drinks to help replenish lost sodium and minerals.
Eating foods with high-water volume also helps stave off dehydration. Summer is a great time to indulge in water-heavy foods. Watermelon, cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, tomatoes, and cantaloupe all have over 90 percent water.
Potassium-rich foods, like bananas, pineapples, and mangoes, keep potassium levels from dropping too low in the summer heat—which can also fuel dehydration.
What you don’t want to consume are foods and beverages that have a diuretic effect, or that deplete the body of water. Avoid chocolate, coffee, colas, and alcohol.
Finally, dress appropriately in warm weather to avoid overheating and dehydration. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, in breathable material, like cotton. On hot days, plan outdoor activities during the coolest part of the day.
2. Avoid Sunburns With Natural Sunscreens
Getting sunburned doesn’t just look and feel bad, it can be dangerous. Sunburn is inflammation of the skin that causes redness and blistering. Severe sunburn, or sun poisoning, can result in extreme pain, headache, fever, and nausea. Sunburn is also a precursor to skin cancer.
All too often, people believe lathering on sunscreen throughout the day will prevent sunburn and allow them to spend the day in the sun safely. But sunburn can occur after 10 minutes of sun exposure, even with sunscreen.
The problem with sunscreens is that most of them only protect against UVB ultraviolet rays. UVB rays actually can do the skin good, though. They allow it to produce vitamin D that the body needs for health.
UVA rays are the bad ones. Like UVB rays, they affect skin cancer risk, but they also cause skin darkening and aging and suppress the immune system. Many sunscreens don’t offer UVA coverage and those that do often contain harmful chemicals. According to a recent Consumer Reports study, many sunscreens—43 percent of the more than 60 tested—don’t even offer the amount of protection they claim.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid sunburn that can be more effective and less harmful than conventional sunscreens. Follow these tips for natural sunburn prevention:
- Wear sun-safe clothing, along with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the eyes and face.
- Eat foods rich in sun-protecting carotenoids, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens.
- Supplement your diet with astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant known as the “internal sunscreen” because it protects against UVA damage.
- Avoid the sun during peak times of day, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m..
- Follow the Environmental Working Group’s recommendations on the healthiest sunscreens, or make your own using nontoxic ingredients, like non-nano zinc oxide, beeswax, shea butter, and coconut oil.
- Apply aloe after sun exposure to limit damage and moisturize skin naturally.
3. Avoid Skin Rashes With Protective Clothing
With plants and weeds at their peak, summer is ripe for rashes, including poison ivy, wild parsnip, and swimmer’s itch. Rashes are patches of irritated or inflamed skin, usually red or pink, and often itchy. Left untreated, they can blister, spread, and lead to serious infections.
Hydrocortisone is an anti-inflammatory steroid often used to treat rashes. While it may be helpful for some people, hydrocortisone can cause health problems, like thinning of the skin, burning, skin discoloration, nausea, headache, and insomnia.
Natural topicals, on the other hand, are gentle on the skin and body and effective in reducing itching and inflammation. Jewelweed, plantain, apple cider vinegar, and fresh basil leaves applied to the rash help alleviate discomfort. Some people swear by oatmeal baths for rash relief.
The best advice is to avoid rashes in the first place. Wearing protective clothing when out in wooded or heavy growth areas keeps the skin from rubbing against poisonous plants and weeds. Long pants, long sleeves, socks, hats, and gloves may all be necessary.
Swimmer’s itch, another common summer rash, often occurs at busy beaches and lakes where ducks and snails are present. Spending time in shallow water is especially risky because snails infected with parasites live near the shoreline. Sitting around in a wet bathing suit can trigger swimmer’s itch, too, so dry off as soon as you get out of the water.
Swimming pools might seem safer, but they can be harmful to the skin, eyes, teeth, and respiratory system due to the chemicals used to keep pool water clean. Avoid swimming in heavily chlorinated pools, and be sure to shower before and after swimming, using soap and clean water.
4. Avoid Bug Bites by Staying Away From Tall Grass
Most summer bugs leave you alone, but some can bite and cause harm and discomfort.
Chiggers, for example, are tiny mites found in tall grass and weeds. They attach to your skin and feast on skin cells. Chiggers usually bite in the folds of skin around the ankles, waist, crotch, and armpits and cause itchy red bumps, often in clusters.
Chigger bites go away on their own after a few weeks, but you can ease discomfort by applying ice packs to the skin. Cooled tea bags, coconut oil, tea tree oil, and honey also have anti-itch properties and work effectively on bug bites.
The best way to prevent bug bites is to avoid the outdoors during dawn and dusk, when bugs are most active. Mosquitoes breed in water, so keep standing water around the house and yard drained.
If you’re going to use a bug spray, steer clear of products made with DEET, a controversial pesticide found in many commercial bug repellents. Choose a natural repellent instead, like cinnamon oil or lemon eucalyptus oil applied to the skin. You can also wash with citronella soap.
Be especially cautious of bees since they cause pain, infection, and, in rare cases, death. People with known bee allergies should avoid bee-infested areas at all costs.
Preventing bee stings can be a simple matter of staying away from areas where bees like to hover — around sweet drinks, open food containers, and trash cans. They’re often found in flower gardens, where they collect nectar and pollen. They’re also attracted to people wearing colorful clothing.
If a bee seems drawn to you, don’t swat at it. Stand still or slowly walk away. Also, avoid wearing loose clothing and try to cover exposed areas, including your feet, where bees can find your skin. If you do get stung, remove the stinger immediately, then wash the area with soap and water and apply ice to relieve the swelling.
5. Avoid Tick-borne Illness by Keeping Pets Away From Deer
Wood ticks come out in the warmer months and dwell in wooded areas and grassy fields. They can latch onto your skin in the blink of an eye — except you may not notice them because they’re so small. Despite their size, they can wreak havoc on your health.
Tick-borne diseases spread to humans through ticks infected with bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Common tick illnesses in the United States include babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme disease. Headaches, fever, muscle aches, joint pain, and fatigue are all symptoms of tick-borne diseases.
While most tick-borne diseases are treatable, there’s one that’s not—and particularly harmful. The Powassan virus, though uncommon, can result in seizures, memory loss, long-term neurological problems and even death. Ticks infected with Powassan can inject the virus into the skin within hours too, unlike ticks carrying Lyme and other common tick viruses.
You can prevent tick bites by avoiding places where ticks live, like wooded and bushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter. Anywhere deer are present, so are ticks, since deer serve as hosts for many tick species. If you do venture to tick-infested areas, cover up; wear full-length pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats.
Some people have had luck using garlic or apple cider vinegar as a natural tick repellent, but you can also make an herbal topical out of essential oils, like rose geranium oil, lavender oil, and lemongrass. Always check thoroughly for ticks if you’ve been in a tick habitat — from the scalp to the toes — and remove any ticks using the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines.
Unfortunately, pets can be tick magnets. If your dog or cat spends time outdoors in the summer, treat your pet with a safe tick preventative and check for ticks. Tick-borne diseases can be especially dangerous in pets. Plus, ticks can travel from your pet to you or other family members.
6. Avoid Food Poisoning With Safe Cooking
Who doesn’t like barbecues and picnics, with all their sweet, juicy, flavorful foods? But summer foods can make you sick, especially if they carry pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, or listeria.
According to a study by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, meats, fruit, and dairy account for a good portion of food-borne illnesses, but fruits and vegetables fare the worst. And several summer favorites — zucchini, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and leafy greens — top the list of culprits for food poisoning.
Food poisoning is no fun any time of year, but it can keep you inside for days during the summer. The good news is, food poisoning is easy to avoid as long as you follow some basic hygiene and healthy food prep tips:
- Wash fruits and vegetables in clean, running water, and scrub firmer produce, like apples and tomatoes.
- Consume produce within a few days of purchasing it.
- Clean all utensils when handling raw meats.
- Wash hands thoroughly before eating.
- Throw out cooked food that has been sitting in 90-degree temperatures for more than one hour and in regular room temperature for more than two hours, according to USDA food safety information.
- Cook barbecue meats to a safe temperature, using a meat thermometer to be sure.
- Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods to prevent the transfer of bacteria.
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
If you do get food poisoning, rest and sip on clear fluids. Apple cider vinegar and ginger tea are good drinks to help settle a stomach, or take a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice several times a day. Basil has antimicrobial properties that also help fight food-borne illness and soothe abdominal discomfort.
Summer fun can quickly turn into a summer bummer thanks to the potential health hazards that warm weather brings. But taking precautions before you engage in summer activities and paying attention to your body will pay off in a healthy season that’s short on time but long on pleasure.