Stay health savvy in the sun

With its warmth, light and optimism, summer should be the season of good health.

And with a bit of thought it will be that way, whether we are here in Oldham or abroad; or are enjoying a drink in the beer garden or a barbeque in our back yard.

Exposure to the sun contributes to the 100,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. Whilst I’m sure they expect more sun Down Under than here in Oldham, the advice of the iconic Australian campaign to Slip on a shirt, Slop on the sunscreen and Slap on a hat is perfect! Although those with darker skin are naturally more protected against harmful rays, American studies have shown that people of all skin types can burn if they don’t wear sunscreen. If you do burn, cool the skin with cold water, drink plenty of fluids and take painkillers. If the burn results in a high temperature, seek medical support.

For one in four of us, June signals the start of the hay fever season, an allergy to pollen which can result in continued sneezing, irritating itchy eyes and a runny nose. Before rushing to your GP, it is wise to visit your pharmacist and try over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines. Nasal sprays and eye drops are also available. A healthy lifestyle – including getting at least seven hours’ sleep – can reduce the severity of symptoms though it is best to exercise when the pollen count is low.

Make sure you don’t mix summer fun with too much alcohol. Remain hydrated, check alcohol content (drinks abroad can be much stronger), plan your route home and avoid taking part in sports and activities if you’ve had a few drinks – it can affect sense of distance and perception of danger.

Have a quick look at the Food Standards Agency’s website when planning a barbeque. Cases of food poisoning almost double during summer, largely through cross-contamination of food and not cooking meat correctly.

If you’re unlucky to be stung or bitten, this should clear up within a few hours with the aid of a cold compress and soap and water. If you develop flu-like symptoms or swelling or itching anywhere else on the body, start wheezing or have difficulty swallowing, then get immediate medical help.

Travelling to foreign climes may require a visit to the GP for vaccinations. Make sure you get advice at least eight weeks before you jet off and note not all jabs are free on the NHS. Use Fit for Travel to find out which vaccinations you need.

So here’s to summer – a season to venture outdoors, relax, maintain and even improve our physical and mental health!

Dr Zahid Chauhan is a family doctor and senior partner at the Medlock Medical Practice in Failsworth.