As my children finish out another school year and the whole family settles in to our summer routine, I can’t help but be reminded of how nice it is to have made it through another winter of cold and flu season. After a winter of spending significantly more time indoors and in closer quarters with other people – the characteristic of winter which inevitably leads to more effective sharing of illness-causing germs and more frequent trips to see the doctor – I routinely find myself welcoming the sunshine, the swimming, and all of the other outdoor activities that summer brings.
As I buy my summer supply of sunscreen, fill prescriptions for allergy meds and remind my teenagers that they are still expected to wear their bicycle helmets, however, I am also reminded that stepping into summer fun and sun is not without its own set of reasons to visit the doctor. After all, this warmly welcomed season comes with its own set of most common illnesses, ailments and injuries.
Seasonal Allergies. For millions of allergy sufferers, some of the sure signs of summer – freshly cut grass, pollen and weeds to name a few – also serve to bring about itchy eyes and runny noses. Allergy symptoms that often start in the spring can and often do persist throughout the summer and into the fall, and can range from annoying eyes, nose and skin irritations to more serious sinus infections and difficulties with breathing and wheezing – all of which may warrant a trip to the doctor for diagnosis and/or treatment.
Bites. Need I say more? Spider bites. Mosquito bites. Tick bites. These too are the signs of the season, and in some cases warrant a trip to the doctor – in some cases for identification, because of increasing pain, redness, swelling, or the appearance of a rash, or for symptomatic treatment.
Broken Bones. Along with the welcoming outdoor weather and increased physical activity of the summertime comes a noticeable increase in injuries which, in addition to the common bumps, bruises, and skinned knees characteristic of the season comes the increased likelihood of broken bones. While necessitating a trip to the doctor, the good news about broken bones is that despite the temporary pain and limitations, children’s bones actually heal incredibly well.
Diarrhea. Not only do summer viruses have the distinct ability to cause some less-than-desirable effects when it comes to vomiting and diarrhea, but so do several bacteria known for contaminating food and summertime fun. That means that in addition to recognizing and regularly acting on the importance of hand washing when dirty, when in contact with germy hands or surfaces, or when exposed to someone who is sick, remember to heed.
Rashes – in addition to bug bites, rashes such as heat rash, increasingly dry skin and eczema, sunburns, and contact rashes such as poison ivy all tend to make their appearances in summer. Generally, a trip to the doctor is warranted either to figure out what the rash is, and/or figure out how best to treat the often-associated discomforts.
Stings. Head outdoors in the summer and you’re sure to find bees. While I only just finished listening to a world-renowned bee expert give a TED talk on how crucial bees are to the world’s food supply, nevertheless as a physician when I hear “bees” I think bee stings. While a run-of-the-mill bee sting doesn’t typically necessitate a doctor visit, some people can have enough pain, swelling and even – in some instances, all-out allergic reaction that requires medical attention.
Sun-related. While sun may be one of the things we all look forward to most about summer, having a healthy respect for its ability to cause sunburn, dehydration and heat stroke – especially during the peak hours of 10a to 2p – can help keep your family out of the doctor’s office, as can making sure you stay well-hydrated and well-equipped with sunscreen.
Swimmer’s ear. Also referred to as “otitis externa,” this common ailment of summer occurs as the result of repeated exposure to water, and typically presents itself as an annoyingly itchy and often painful irritation of the ear canal. While the pain and redness are often alarming enough to bring people in to see their doctors, the good news is that simply drying out the ear canal and treating the infection work very well.
Viral illnesses. While we all tend to think of winter as the time for cold and flu viruses to lurk, there are still plenty of summertime viruses – most notably a group called enteroviruses – that can cause anything from vomiting and diarrhea to hand foot mouth, and/or croup-like illnesses. In most cases, what most determines the need for a trip to the doctor is the persistence of high fevers, dehydration, lethargy, accompanying rashes, or simply reassurance.
Well visits (for school). I would be remiss as a pediatrician if I did not remember to mention that while you may think of them as “school physicals”, summertime is actually a great time to beat the crowds of people who wait until just before school starts and take your school-age child in now for his/her annual well visit (not to mention camp physical, sports participation physical, etc).
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska