Melissa MacDonald DC
Common Summer Myths & What to Do About Them
Each summer, we head out on the water, into woods, and just in general into the outdoors. In the Midwest, there is a limited amount of beautiful weather before winter returns. It is time to enjoy the weather, but it needs to be done safely. There is quite a bit of information out on the internet on how to do this, but we have to be able to distinguish truth from fiction. Let’s go through the common myths of summer and how to be safe for summer.
MYTH 1: You Should Wear Sunscreen at All Times
During the summer, sunscreen is applied all the time, but is this type of diligence necessary? Yes, if you are going to be spending an extended period outdoors, but in controlled amounts, the sun exposure can be healthy. The amount needed per day varies from person to person, but starting with 10-15 minutes of exposure per day can be healthy for vitamin D production. It is especially important to pick the right time of day for sun exposure in the Midwest. The sun is strongest and most effective for vitamin D production between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, which is a tiny window depending on schedules. Taking a 15 min walk outdoors at those time will give you a substantial benefit. For most people in the Midwest, they will have some form of vitamin D deficiency. The deficiency is due to the eight months spent indoors during the year. Meaning that it may be essential to get blood work in the spring and fall to see if a supplement would be beneficial.
Right now you might be wondering what makes vitamin D important. There are four significant benefits, according to the research:
1. A key part of the immune system (1)
It helps the immune system adapt to new diseases and can potentially assist with autoimmune disease prevention, but more research needs to be done.
2. Reduces depression symptoms (2)
The exact relationship has not been well understood, but when combined with traditional treatment has been shown to decrease symptoms.
3. Can help with weight loss
Getting adequate amounts of vitamin D may enhance weight loss, reduce body fat, and limit weight gain.
4. An important part of bone health
Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium. Without it the kidney causes the calcium to be excreted in the urine.
MYTH 2: Spray Sunscreen is a Great Option
The convenience of the spray sunscreen has become prolific (in fact, Dr. Mac has some in her car right now), but there have been indications that this delivery method could be a hazard to your health (Dr. Mac's has now gone in the garbage). The FDA has sent caution because the aerosolized droplets can push the sunscreen chemicals deep into your lungs, causing damage and getting into the bloodstream. Plus, there is skin coverage and protection concerns on dry skin. It looks to be time to go back to the old school hand-applied sunscreen.
You might be wondering about alternatives to sunscreens that are "safer" or "healthier". According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the minimum recommendation for skin protection:
- Broad-spectrum for both UVA and UVB rays
- SPF of 30 or Higher
There are two main types of sunscreen, chemical and mineral.
- Chemical sunscreens are the most common type and the one that most likely comes to mind when thinking of sunscreen. They prevent the harmful UV rays from reaching your skin by absorbing it. Although they are easy to apply, they will need to be reapplied often as they typically last only 40-80 minutes.
- Mineral sunscreens (also called physical sunscreens) form a literal barrier on your skin to reflect the UVA and UVB rays. They leave a white residue on the skin, and they can be more difficult to spread on your skin, but usually last longer than chemical formulas.
Both work well, so it is a personal preference which to use. Dr. Mac's favorite is Sun Bum because it contains fewer chemicals and no coconut products (she's allergic). But based on consumer reviews, the best overall was Hawaiian tropic Antioxidant + Sunscreen Lotion with 50 SPF.
MYTH 3: You Don't Have to Worry about Sunburn When it's Cloudy
Sadly, UV can still get through the clouds and damage your skin. If you are outside, keep the sunscreen on if you will be out for an extended period. Clouds do reduce the amount of UV rays, but they do not 100% block them. It may take longer, but you are still having the damaging effects of the sun which can increase your risk for skin cancer. A great way to know your exposure risk is to check the UV index for the day, which can be found on most weather apps.
MYTH 4: It's Fine to Scratch Bug Bites
In the Midwest, one of the first signs of summer is the return of the blood-sucking evil insects, the mosquitos. Once they bite, the urge to scratch can be unbearable, but do the best you can to resist. That one scratch will make it so much worse. By scratching you are breaking down the skin and opening yourself up to possible infections. It is best to apply something cooling to the bites to reduce the inflammation and soothe the itch. One of Dr. Mac's favorite topicals to use for bug bites is tea tree oil gel. It is both cooling and soothing.
MYTH 5: Eating Garlic Can Keep Mosquitos at Bay
Sadly, it does not affect how tasty you are to mosquitos, and Dr. Mac can confirm this fact. In the MacDonald house, garlic is continuously consumed with at least one meal a day. Every year, the mosquitoes don’t seem to care. Your best options are to protect yourself with bug sprays and citronella candles.
DEET is the most effective bug repellent on the market. There is a common thought that DEET isn't safe. The EPA has done two massive reviews in both 1998 and 2014 and determined it is safe for both adults and children. If you would prefer not to use DEET, there is a natural option of oil and lemon eucalyptus (OLE). Granted, the CDC does not recommend OLE used on children under the age of three and nothing to be used on an infant under six months.
MYTH 6: Any Drink Will Help You Hydrate
You might want to grab a cooled ice pop to hydrate and cool off, but actually, it might cause further dehydration in the long run. Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages tend to pull water from the body and further dehydrate you as well. It is essential to know the signs of dehydration. Since it is an issue year-round, but in the summer, it can happen faster due to the heat. The 10 signs of dehydration are:
1. Bad breath
3. Cravings for sweets
5. Dry Skin
6. Feeling Cold
9. Muscle Cramps
Another way to know if you should be drinking is to look at your urine color.
You might be wondering how much water you need to drink each day to stay hydrated. Since our body is majority water, we need to maintain our hydration for health. There is a common thought that you need eight glasses of water each day or take small sips of water all day long. If this works for you, that is amazing, but this can seem overwhelming to be successful. There honestly are only three things you need to do:
-Drink when you're thirsty and remember sometimes you might think you're hungry instead of thirsty. Try drinking water before eating, especially if you're trying to lose weight.
-When you're not thirsty anymore, stop.
-During high heat and exercise, make sure to drink enough to compensate for the lost fluids through sweat.
MYTH 7: A Dip in the Pool is about as Good as a Shower
All that can be said is ewwwww. For the most part, a dip in the lake or pool is a reason to take a shower immediately. The safety and cleanliness of the human-made pool is based on whether it is correctly chlorinated. Pools contain a horrifying amount of sweat, fecal matter, and urine.
Now for three additional reasons why you need to shower:
- Chorine kills, but only over time and not everything.
Chlorine is the most common agent used to kill harmful bacteria and e-coli. Chlorine does take time to work through, and that can be as long as 1-minute to several days. One of the nastier parasites that can be found is cryptosporidium or 'crypto.' The parasite causes severe diarrhea in humans and takes ten-days for chlorine to kill.
- Lakes and Oceans are not "clean," either. Human and animal fecal matter can be found in natural water bodies, and this is why public beaches have regular water testing to ensure quality. Another reason to shower after being in a lake or ocean is swimmers itch. Swimmers itch is a skin rash caused by a reaction to microscopic parasites in the water. The parasite burrows into the skin, causing a skin reaction and rash. The best way to prevent the itch is to shower off and avoid water that has high known infestations. Look for literal warning signs posted at the shoreline before entering the water.
MYTH 8: Wait to Swim After Eating or You Could Cramp and Drown
While any activity after eating can cause cramping as the body is focused on digesting, there is no evidence that it has ever killed anyone. With a typical meal, your safe to head out and swim. Granted, if you eat a heavy greasy meal and try to be active, you're going to feel terrible whether you are in the water or not.
MYTH 9: No One Really Gets Struck by Lightning
Lightening is something that happens more often than people realize. On average, 50 people die each year in the US after being struck by lightning, according to the national weather service. You are more likely to die from lightning while fishing, boating, camping, and golfing.
There are five ways lightning can strike you:
- Direct Strike
This is the deadliest type and the one that is most commonly thought of when thinking of being hit by lightning. This happens when an object essentially becomes part of the lightning discharge. They channel the energy and it typically occurs if a person is out in the open, unprotected.
- Side Flash
This occurs when a tall object near a person (such as a tree) is struck, and the current jumps to the person and hits them.
- Ground Currents
Though seemingly subtle, this accounts for the most fatalities as the lightning strikes an object, and the energy travels outward. Ground currents can move from objects such as metal poles and trees, killing the person on the ground. Do NOT shelter under a tree if caught outside in a storm for this reason.
This is the cause of most indoor lightning injuries. In this method of a strike, lightning travels through wiring or plumbing. This is why it is dangerous to be in the shower during a thunderstorm.
This essentially is a little lightning strike extending from the main bolt. While rare, it can still result in injury or death.
Summer is supposed to be fun and safe. Take this information and head out and explore.
(1) Aranow C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine : the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, 59(6), 881–886. https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
(2) Penckofer, S., Kouba, J., Byrn, M., & Estwing Ferrans, C. (2010). Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?. Issues in mental health nursing, 31(6), 385–393. https://doi.org/10.3109/01612840903437657
(3) Rajan TV, Hein M, Porte P, Wikel S. A double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of garlic as a mosquito repellant: a preliminary study. Med Vet Entomol. 2005;19(1):84‐89. doi:10.1111/j.0269-283X.2005.00544.x