Time off in summer should be relaxing and fun, whether you’re headed for the Lake District, a Greek island or just staying at home. But even fairly minor health problems, such as mosquito or midge bites can blight a much longed for break. We asked the experts for their tips on solving six common summer health problems.
1. Holiday Tummy
Traveller's tummy is one of the most common holiday health complaints for tourists visiting foreign countries.
"Travellers' diarrhoea is a huge problem," says Jo Lane-Sansam, senior practice nurse at Harrow Health Care Medical Centre.
"Stick to bottled, boiled or treated water, even when brushing your teeth. Make sure that all dairy products are pasteurised. Meat should be thoroughly cooked and all vegetables should be peeled and cooked." "Rice is one of the biggest causes of food poisoning. It must be hot and freshly cooked. Avoid all foods that have been re-heated and be very careful about eating shellfish (prawns and lobster), especially if you’re inland."
A study has shown that taking probiotics (supplements containing gut friendly bacteria) can reduce the amount of time you have diarrhoea for, so they may be worth trying. Ask your pharmacist for advice before you buy.
“Hand hygiene is really important, because every-day items like money, door handles and ATM machines can be quite dirty. Make sure you use antibacterial hand sanitiser often while you’re away,” says Jo.
Sunburn isn’t just painful it also puts you at much higher risk of skin cancer. Dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams, director of European Dermatology London advises prevention by avoiding the sun at the hottest time of the day between midday and 3pm and staying in the shade or under an umbrella.
"Children and adults should ideally always wear sun-protective clothing at the beach, including hats and sunglasses, and everyone should wear sun cream, factor 30 to 50, every day," says Dr Marsh.
However, sometimes we do get caught out, and don’t feel the full extent of the burn until 24 hours later. "If you have relatively mild sunburn, use a light cooling lotion containing Aloe Vera on the burnt areas," says Dr Williams.
"If you have a stronger sunburn, you can get a topical steroid cream from a chemist, but only use it on small areas. If you don’t have any contraindications, you can also take two 500mg Aspirins on the day you’ve been sunburnt. However this is not an excuse to overdo it in the sun."
Aspirins are anti-inflammatory, and can help reduce inflammation caused by sunburn.
3. Mosquito Bites
"Bite avoidance, that’s your first line of defence," says Jo Lane-Sansam. "It’s about not getting bitten in the first place. There are plenty of ways to help keep mosquitoes away. Use insect repellents, have the air conditioning on and the windows shut when you’re inside. You can also use mosquito plug-ins that kills mosquitoes."
Clothing makes a difference as well, so wear loose-fitting clothes, with long sleeves, to cover yourself up.
"If you are bitten, the best tip is to use antihistamines and a mild steroid (e.g. a 1% hydrocortisone cream) to relieve the itching," says Jo Lane-Sansam. “Try not to scratch your bites – it can make it worse, and can lead to infection and only use the steroid cream on unbroken skin."
4. Prickly Heat
"Prickly heat is a condition caused by blocked sweat gland ducts," explains Dr Williams. It often happens in hot or humid weather, when you sweat more than usual. If your sweat glands are blocked, sweat can be trapped under your skin, making you feel itchy."
"Wearing light, breathable clothing can help," says Dr Williams. "Calamine lotion is very good for this. It helps to soothe sore, itchy skin."
"Outdoor airborne allergens can cause sneezing, runny nose, rhinitis, itchy nose, eyes, ears, itching at the back of your throat, tight chest and coughing," explains Amena Warner, nurse adviser at Allergy UK. "Antihistamines are the best treatment for these symptoms," says Amena. "You can buy these from pharmacies in the UK, and in some foreign countries."
And don’t forget indoor allergens. If you stay somewhere with poor ventilation - a damp cottage or villa for instance - you could find house dust mites, mould, even pet allergens. These can cause itchy nose and eyes, runny nose, coughing, even an asthma attack.
You can’t always avoid allergens, but you can be prepared for them. "If you have allergies it’s really important to pack your rescue medication, including antihistamines, inhalers, and any other vital medications you have, like Adrenaline injections," says Amena.
Before you go away find out where the nearest doctor, health clinic, and hospital will be. See your pharmacist for advice before travelling, and make sure that your EHIC card is up to date. (You can apply for one using the EHIC online application form). EHIC cards are free, but they don’t give the same cover as travel insurance.
6. Summer Cold
Having a cold is miserable at any time of year, but it can be more annoying in the summer, especially if you are also suffering from hay fever too. You can’t cure a cold – they usually last for a week or two - but you can relieve your symptoms. Make sure you’re stocked up with painkillers – Paracetamol or Ibuprofen - decongestant sprays, and mentholated sweets to help clear your nose. Drink plenty of fluids, especially if the weather is hot. Try to keep to a healthy diet, and rest.