Clinical Editor: Megan Dodson, PA-C
The great outdoors comes with a host of health benefits — fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for your well-being. That being said, time in nature can also bring risks. From pesky mosquito bites to itchy sunburns, it’s important to take some extra precautions to protect your health and wellness outdoors. Whether you’re hiking, camping, or just enjoying a day by the pool, here are a few, simple ways to prepare for your next outdoor adventure.
While the summer sun can give you a jolt of vitamin D and endorphins, it’s crucial to protect your skin from damage, which can lead to skin cancer. Plus, sunburns just plain hurt, so practicing proper sun care can save you from a miserable few days (or longer).
What does that look like? Find a sunscreen that works for you, and apply it regularly. Wear protective clothing layers, and find shade when you can. A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses can offer longer-lasting sun protection, shading your eyes, ears, face, and neck from the sun’s harmful rays. Getting outside for a little sunlight is great, but prolonged sun exposure can be damaging and harmful. Plan and prepare for healthy, comfortable skin!
Another potential risk is dehydration. Depending on your climate and location, higher temperatures can take a toll on your body and energy levels. Prepare ahead of time by hydrating before, during, and after your beach days and wilderness explorations.
Being outside in the heat — and then exercising in the heat — can increase your sweat production and potentially deplete your hydration. Dehydration can wreak havoc on the body and lead to serious health complications, so it’s important to drink water regularly throughout the day. While water recommendations vary from person to person based on a number of factors, the rule of thumb is to increase your normal water intake when you’re going to be in any conditions that make you sweat more. Staying hydrated will also keep you cool and help your body maintain a normal temperature.
3. Heat-related illness
If you’ve overexerted yourself (overexertion looks different for everyone, mind you!) in high heat environments, and your body is no longer able to regulate your body temperature, you may be experiencing heat-related illness.
Symptoms to look out for: fatigue (more than normal), dizziness, weakness, headache, a general feeling of malaise (feeling sick or being sick), excessive sweating with pale, clammy skin, heat rash, cramps in the arms, legs, and stomach, irregularly fast fast breathing and/or heart rate, feeling extreme thirst, nausea, and vomiting.
Prevention comes down to preparation and mindfulness. Protect yourself from heat-related illness by paying close attention to the weather forecast and dressing appropriately. Remember to stay hydrated and tune into your body and symptoms.
If you’re already experiencing heat-related illness, it’s imperative that you cool yourself down within 30 minutes. If this does not happen, you’ll need immediate medical attention; heat stroke can be fatal if untreated.
Try to get out of the heat and into an air-conditioned space if possible. You can cool yourself down by taking a cool shower or bath or using an ice pack or cold cloth on different parts of your body. Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and avoid sugary drinks and alcohol. Seek urgent medical attention if you’re throwing up or feeling like you’re going to pass out, or if your symptoms are getting worse or do not improve within 1 hour.
4. Mosquito bites
Mosquito bites can be a nuisance and put a damper on your outdoor fun. While most resolve in a matter of days, occasionally - depending on the mosquito and location — they can be much more dangerous. Zika, West Nile, Chikungunya, malaria, and dengue are all considerations when it comes to mosquito-borne illness.
If your time outdoors happens to be in a region where these diseases are prominent, it’s essential to take proper precautions. Check out your region of travel for specific health concerns before you travel. The CDC has a list of safe mosquito repellents you can bring with you on your journey. You’ll also want to have a mosquito tent handy if you’re planning on camping.
In your own outdoor spaces, ensure that you have no containers with standing water, which can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
If you’ve already been bitten, wash the bite with soap and water, and apply a cool compress or over-the-counter hydrocortisone or calamine lotion for itching. If you’re in an area of the world where mosquito-transmitted diseases are common, keep an eye out for symptoms like fever, headache, body aches, rash, nausea, swollen lymph nodes, disorientation, stiff neck, and muscle weakness.
5. Tick bites
In addition to mosquitos, it’s also important to keep an eye out for ticks. Unfortunately, tick season happens to coincide with the summer months.
Ticks are widespread across the US (and many countries around the world) and tend to thrive in warmer weather. They typically live in wooded, densely vegetal, grassy, sometimes forested areas..
Prevention of tick bites is the first line of defense. You can do this by wearing long, form-fitting and protective clothing, avoiding long grasses and shrubs , and sticking to trails. Check your skin — including your scalp and behind your ears — when you’re heading back indoors. Get help from a friend or family member to do a thorough check. Do the same for your furry friends (and have them on a tick-prevention medication).
If you’ve been bitten by a tick, contact your primary care provider. Look out for symptoms like fever and chills, muscle pain and fatigue, tiredness, headaches, and skin problems like itchiness, irritation, and rash.
6. Poisonous plants
The next adversary? Poisonous plants. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are three varieties to be on the lookout for when you’re traipsing through nature. If you come into contact with any of them, a rash can form within 24 to 72 hours of contact. One of the best ways to to protect yourself is to get to know what they look like. Familiarize yourself with photos of these three plants so you can easily identify (and avoid) them out in the wild. It’s also a good idea to bring soap and water (alcohol-based sanitizer and/or wipes at a minimum) in your first aid kit in case you’re exposed.
If you’ve come into contact with any poisonous shrub, immediately wash the exposed area to remove the oils. Remove any exposed clothing as soon as you are able, keep it separate (plastic bags in your backpack or fanny pack can be good for this) and wash them immediately. You may end up with some contact dermatitis, which your provider can help with by prescribing topical treatment.
Some individuals can have an allergic reaction to these plant oils, so keep an eye out for an itchy rash. Mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. If these things don’t help or you’re experiencing severe symptoms, reach out to your healthcare provider.
The most fit among us can still sustain injuries, no matter how much conditioning and strength training they’ve put under their belt. Traveling with a first aid kit and an emergency plan in place can help keep you safe regardless of circumstances. Travel in groups, pack a solid set of safety items (flash light, GPS, water, energy bars, knife, extra clothing, first aid, etc.), stay hydrated, let people know what your plans are, and always have a backup plan. Accidents do still happen, even if we’re prepared.
Have more questions about outdoor safety? Our primary care team is here to help. At One Medical, we aim to provide exceptional care designed around you and your unique health needs. Sign up today to book an appointment — in person or over video — through our app.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.