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The Medical Minute: Reminders for a healthy summer

Life can be pretty good during the summer – especially for those who heed health advice about sun safety, staying hydrated and getting needed vaccinations before traveling abroad. To optimize the good times, here are few refreshers about how to stay healthy this summer.


Dr. Ravi Rao, a family medicine physician at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, said dehydration often presents as dizziness, dry mouth and lightheadedness. You might go from sweating a lot to not at all or even becoming lethargic, in some extreme cases.

Most patients don't seek medical care for mild dehydration because it can be resolved by drinking water or other drinks that contain electrolytes. More severe cases are treated with intravenous fluids.

“Hydration is big – especially if you are out in the sun,” he said. “You should be drinking one or two glasses of water every hour.”

He recommends increasing that amount if you will be doing physical activities and sweating more, or if you are consuming alcohol or caffeinated drinks. “If you are drinking, you should alternate alcoholic drinks with water,” Rao advised.

People who are prone to kidney stones tend to get them more often when they are dehydrated. “I see a lot of people who work in construction or landscaping who are out in the sun all day and come in early because they have sharp pain,” he said. “You see that a lot more than straight-up dehydration.”

Sun protection

When spending time outdoors, Rao recommends applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 every one to two hours, especially if you'll be in the water. He said an SPF greater than 30 may not provide much additional benefit as SPF 30 is defined as blocking 97 percent of harmful UV rays, with SPF 50 blocking 98 percent.

Dry sunblock products tend to be somewhat less effective than their liquid counterparts, but both cream and spray sunscreens work well if you are careful to apply them completely.

Beware of cloudy days, too. The sun, though behind the clouds, is still projecting its rays. “That's when people get burned the most because they're getting the same exposure but without the heat that signals them to get out of the sun,” he said.

Even with sunscreen, you should take breaks from the sun by using an umbrella or spending time in the shade. “Your net sun exposure, from a cosmetic standpoint, can lead to more wrinkles,” Rao said. “And your cumulative exposure can increase your cancer risk.”

If you do get sunburned, over-the-counter aloe gel is the best treatment. Seek medical attention for more severe cases such as sun poisoning, which can cause illness, lethargy or fever.

And be vigilant with the kids. “They are more active and their sunblock tends to wear off sooner,” Rao said.

Smart shoes

Children and adults alike should also make smart footwear choices when being active outdoors. Wearing flat sandals or flip-flops for extended periods of walking or physical activity can lead to ankle sprains or plantar fasciitis, a tendonitis of the arch of the foot caused by overuse.

“Plantar fasciitis creates a burning, stabbing pain every time you step and it's hard to treat,” Rao said. “It takes weeks to get better so it's important to treat it early or prevent it by wearing supportive footwear.”

Tick precautions

If you have a pet or enjoy hiking or walking outdoors, it's important to take precautions to avoid deer ticks, which can carry Lyme disease. “In central Pennsylvania, deer ticks are everywhere,” Rao said. He recommends using a Permethrin spray on clothing, an insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin and checking for ticks before heading indoors.

“People with dogs are actually at higher risk because they can bring them in the house,” he said

Vaccinate before vacation

If you're planning a trip abroad, call your family doctor as soon as you book your travel to get any vaccinations you may need ahead of time. “Sometimes people come in a week before their trip, and that's too late,” Rao said. “Some of the vaccinations are a two- or three-shot series so you need to start a couple of months ahead.”

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The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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