Top Seven Summer Health Risks

PHOTO: Sunburn
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The heat facilitates a great deal of summer fun, but it's also the culprit behind many threats to your health.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, causing more deaths annually than floods, lightning, hurricanes and tornadoes combined. In 1980, a U.S. heat wave claimed more than 1,200 lives, and about 50,000 Europeans died in a 2003 heat wave. North American tends to have at least one heat wave each summer, according to NOAA.

A number of other health issues come with the summer heat. While not all are necessarily fatal, in many cases they are serious enough to send you scrambling for a remedy.

Here's how to avoid and treat seven common summer heat ailments:

PHOTO: Swimmer's ear
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Swimmer's Ear

When you get out of the pool this summer, make sure not to let any water stay behind in your ears.

Swimmer's ear, an infection of the ear canal, most often develops with the help of water, which facilitates the growth of bacteria in what Dr. Iyad Saidi calls an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, especially if there is a scratch for them to take hold of.

The infection can be extremely painful and disfiguring, but it is eminently avoidable, says Saidi, an otolaryngologist at Metropolitan ENT in Alexandria, Va.

Use a towel, not a Q-tip, he says, and treat the infection with antibiotic drops and by cleaning the ear canal.

"The most important thing is to make sure all the water comes out," Saidi says.

PHOTO: Sunburn
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Sunburn

As many have learned the hard way in this scorching summer, sunburns do not only strike at the beach.

In fact, many are vulnerable to sunburns even when the sun is hidden behind clouds, partly because of the common misconception that clouds provide enough protection from the sun's rays.

"I see the worst burns on cloudy days," says Dr. Doris Day, a professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.

Day advocates the daily use of sunscreen — lots of it. Cover every inch of skin that will be exposed to the sun, she says, and use enough to make the most of your lotion's SPF rating.

If you do get sunburn, get to some shade as quickly as possible, she says. Take a lukewarm bath, with whole milk mixed in if desired, and cool off.

PHOTO: Heat rash
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Heat Rashes

The people most at risk for sunburn are also most vulnerable to heat rashes, which emerge when heat irritates the skin, particularly around body folds.

The result looks much like hives, but this is no allergic reaction.

To treat heat rashes, Dr. Day recommends using powder to absorb extra moisture — though not corn starch — and staying in the air-conditioned indoors.

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Tick and Mosquito Bites

Camping trips are not the only times to worry about bug bites.

Lyme disease-carrying ticks exist in all 50 states, and not only in wooded areas, says Dr. Day. The most troubling part: only half of people who contract Lyme get the telltale rash associated with it.

Others get symptoms like headaches, but the disease remains under-recognized and under-treated, according to Day. If untreated long enough, the disease can become debilitating.

Mosquitoes also pose an increased threat as the amount of clothing covering people's skin decreases. Among the mosquito-borne dangers to watch out for is the West Nile virus, Day says.

While insect repellant is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal, she says, beware that mosquitoes may develop resistance to them.

And be sure to check your body for ticks after you come in from the outdoors.

PHOTO: Open-flame barbecue
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Grill Burns

Most Americans dusting off their grills this summer do not suspect that they are inviting any dangers. But grill burns tend to happen suddenly — in a rush to save the burgers from burning, for instance.

If you are burned, do not apply ice to the burn, says Dr. Day. Doing so might result in an "ice pack burn."

Cortisone and aloe work to soothe the inflammation, with the latter also serving as an anesthetic to quell the pain. Honey may also help, Day says.

If the burn is deep and painful, head to the emergency room for proper wound care.

The key, Day says, is caution and preparedness. Even if you're in a hurry, take care to avoid touching the grill, and make sure you have a cooking glove nearby at all times.

PHOTO: Jellyfish
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Jellyfish Stings

If you are stung by a jellyfish at the beach this summer, vinegar or urine should do the trick, right? Wrong, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Those two acidic liquids do not work nearly as effectively as hot water and painkillers, the study said.

In particular, the study recommended painkillers containing lidocaine, which appears to inhibit the poison sacs left behind by jellyfish from spreading their venom. Hot water helps to denature the sacs.

The trick, according to the study, is to avoid rupturing the sac, as may easily happen in an attempt to wipe the affected area off with a towel.

PHOTO: Stomach ache
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Food-Borne Illnesses

The heat is also a culprit in the rise of food-borne illnesses during the summer.

Of course, industrial and agricultural mishaps account for outbreaks of food-borne illnesses throughout the year, but the hot temperatures allow bacteria to thrive, making food more vulnerable to contamination, says Dr. Jeff Bender, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota.

There are three main steps consumers should take to avoid food-borne bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter, Bender says: prevent cross-contamination (for example, allowing meat juice to come into contact with food that will not be cooked), refrigerate foods appropriately, and cook meats thoroughly. A meat thermometer is a great help for the last step, Bender says.

The symptom common to infections by all three of the above bacteria is diarrhea. If diarrhea persists for three days or longer, or if you develop a fever, Bender recommends a hospital visit.

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