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Feeling dizzy outside? Sprain your ankle while running on an outdoor track? Always craving ice cream? Summer arrives with sun, humidity and frequently, a whole different host of health concerns. Here are the answers to these questions and a few other summer health problems.
1. Constipation on vacation
A large part of the American population experiences travelers' constipation. Dr. Lynn O’Connor, a colorectal surgeon in New York, said that's because when people travel, they experience a change in lifestyle, schedule, diet, fluid intake and activity, which can result in constipation.
“Humans have an inner biological clock and daily routines, which allow for regulation of sleep wake cycles and urges to defecate,” O'Connor explained. Further, the stress of packing or having to use bathrooms in airports, hotels or other peoples’ homes can disrupt bowel functions. To combat this (and avoid a stomachache), O’Connor suggests packing healthy snacks for the road, eating at the same time that you normally would and limiting caffeine intake. And here are some gut fixes to improve your digestion in your everyday life.
2. Dizzy spells
According to Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, dizziness has a number of possible causes in the summer including dehydration due to lack of proper fluid intake, or the result of excess caffeine.
“Lack of access to air conditioning can also lead to excess sweating, which compounds the risk for dehydration,” he elaborated.
If you’re prone to feeling dizzy, try wetting a washcloth to put on your wrists or neck, or even sucking on ice cubes throughout the day to continue cooling your body temperature. Remember to boost your water intake during the summer months — people don't realize how much fluid they lose in the heat.
3. Exercise injuries
If you’re used to running on a flat surface like a treadmill, your chances for an ankle sprain or injury can increase when you're exercising outside.
If you feel a twinge or something more serious in your ankle joints, it’s important to know how to handle it so you don’t perpetuate the pain or injury. Dr. Ali Sadrieh, a foot surgeon and sports medicine physician in Los Angeles, recommended tending to the injury immediately and not trying to “walk it off.”
Instead, he suggested RICE therapy:
- Rest the ankle until it feels comfortable to bear weight.
- Ice the joint as much as possible to limit the pain and swelling.
- Compression will also help in controlling any swelling and will limit motion, preventing re-injury — a bandage or ankle wrap will do.
- Elevate the ankle — this will limit the amount of excess fluid that could travel to the injured area.
After trying this, it’s time to decipher if the injury is a more serious one.
“If you are unable to bear weight after an ankle injury or 'sprain,' you need to obtain X-rays to confirm that you don't have a fracture," advised Glatter. "Tenderness and swelling are commonly present(ed) after an ankle sprain, but inability to bear weight is associated with a higher risk of having an ankle fracture.”
4. Ice cream cravings
Why is it that we crave ice cream so much more in the summer? “Cold drinks and foods have lower temperatures, which absorb more heat and satisfy your hypothalamus, which helps to control body temperature, thirst and even hunger,” noted nutritionist Beth Nydick.
While those cravings aren't such a bad thing, keep in mind that there are delicious homemade and healthy alternatives, such as frozen berries blended with bananas.
5. Difficulty sleeping
If you feel like you’re having a harder time sleeping during the summer months, you’re not crazy.
"If the temperature is too warm when you’re sleeping, it can cause your body to stay up," explained Dr. Christopher S. Colwell, a neuroscientist and sleep expert. "We normally fall asleep when the body’s core temperature drops at night. It’s part of the normal circadian rhythm. If the temperature is too warm, we cannot fall asleep, leading to a night of tossing and turning. Sleeping in a cool, dark environment will help your body get the sleep that it needs."
Make sure to set your thermostat lower in the evenings and avoid intense exercising at night, which will cause your body temperature to rise.
6. Excessive thirst
This is common in the summer, especially when you're exercising outside. When you sweat, your blood rushes to the surface of your skin to help prevent your body from overheating. “As you sweat, you lose water and heat and your brain asks you to replenish in the form of thirst,” nutritionist Nydick said.
While water is obviously the best way to stay hydrated, it’s important to drink it consistently as opposed to chugging it all at once. According to Dr. Ralph E. Holsworth, director of scientific research for a water company, profusely chugging water can actually lead to dehydrated kidneys as the water may not be making its way to these organs. Excess water could be dispelled through the rectum, because the kidneys can only process half a liter per hour.
Holsworth also advised monitoring your hydration level by looking at the color of your urine: it should be straw-colored to transparent yellow.
And remember to avoid energy drinks. While it IS important to replace lost sodium (salt) as a result of sweating in the heat, Glatter noted that consuming energy drinks to rehydrate may actually place you at higher risk for dehydration because of high amounts of caffeine contained in such beverages.
Stay cool, hydrated and in a routine! Remember these tips to relax more and stress less this summer.