Surviving through the summer, from hay fever to ear problems

From hay fever and ear problems to sunburn, holiday time can bring a range of health issues. Wendy Good gets advice from the experts on how to cope.

“The key to surviving summer is prevention,” says Dr Trish Ryan, a GP from Elmwood Medical Practice in Grange, Cork.

Putting together a summer survival kit is one tip offered by pharmacist Ciarán O’Connor of O’Connor’s Pharmacy Kinsale: “A pharmacy kit that you keep at home, or take on holidays, should contain a topical antihistamine such as Antisan, sun protection (not forgetting lips and tips of ears), paracetamol for children such as Calpol (chewable tablets can be easier to travel with), insect repellent, Dioralyte for dehydration, travel sickness tablets, blister plasters, Immodium for diarrhoea and antihistamine tablets.

"Always check with your pharmacist as some products can be unsuitable if you are on other medication,” he says.

So, from head-to-toe, here’s how to stay bright and breezy as the temperatures rise this summer. Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen or spores. The majority of people in Ireland with hay fever are allergic to grass pollen but others will react to tree pollen, weeds, fungi and mould.

The following may help when the pollen count is high: Stay indoors, keeping windows and doors shut. Shower and wash your hair after being outdoors. Dry clothes inside Wear wraparound sunglasses when you are out. Keep pets clean. Pets can carry pollen inside too. Keep car windows closed and consider buying a pollen filter.

Dr Trish. Ryan.
Dr Trish. Ryan.

Hay fever is very common. It affects about 20% of people in Ireland. Common symptoms include a runny, itchy or a blocked nose, sneezing, itchy and watery red eyes, and an itchy throat. The main lines of treatment are education, allergy avoidance, antihistamines and topical steroids. Your pharmacist can also advise on eye drops, nasal sprays.

“The majority of people can get relief from avoiding pollen as much as possible and using pharmacy medicines but severe hay fever should be treated by your GP and that should start as early as possible in the year — from March onwards,” says Dr Ryan.

Moving onto ears, the in-flight pressure can be difficult to tolerate, particularly for children. “Always give babies a bottle or a drink on take-off and landing and perhaps a lollipop for older children to get them moving their jaw,” says Dr Ryan.

‘Swimmer’s ear’ can ruin many a holiday, when water gets trapped behind the eardrum and can get infected, leading to hot, itchy and painful ears, problems with balance, hearing and a gunky discharge.

“It is hard to avoid an outer ear infection. This will require medical attention and an antibiotic but if you know you are prone to swimmer’s ear, there are specific ear plugs you can get that are designed to help prevent it.” says Mr O’Connor.

Prickly heat is very uncomfortable and often shows up on chest and arms as a red, itchy, bumpy rash. It feels like prickles under the skin and is irritating, itchy and sore.

“Prevention is key here,” says Dr Ryan.

If you get it the minute you land off the plane, take an antihistamine for a few days before you go and continue it while you are there.

"The minority, who suffer badly, will need oral steroids. If it flares up, have a cool shower, take an antihistamine, stay out of sun, wear loose clothing and have a fan up to you,” she says.

Last summer’s great weather meant that pharmacists and doctors were seeing more patients with sunburn, sunstroke and heat exhaustion: “If you feel suddenly unwell after being in the sun, you need medical attention. Signs to watch for include being dizzy, fatigued, nausea, excessive sweating and being very thirsty. If someone is very confused, coordination is gone, they are restless, or lapsing in and out of consciousness, get them to hospital,” says Dr Ryan.

Sun protection is a hot topic with Mr O’Connor: “There isn’t a safe level of skin burning. An SPF on a bottle tells you that without any protection if, say, your skin burned in one minute with exposure to UV, an SPF of 20 means your skin will burn in 20 minutes. It doesn’t mean you have fantastic cover, a high SPF is a minimum requirement and needs to be reapplied often - at least four-five times a day,” he says.

Dr Ryan sees a lot of sunburn: “Severe scalds with blisters after perhaps falling asleep in sun needs burn gel and medical attention, as they can become infected. It’s usually men we see with blisters, playing sports and taking tops off!

Cork pharmacist Ciaran O'Connor.
Cork pharmacist Ciaran O'Connor.

We love the bees and their cohorts, doing their vital work. The stings? Not so much. As soon as you have been stung by an insect, you should remove the sting and the venomous sac. Do this by scraping it out, either with your fingernails, or something with a hard edge, such as a bank card.

To treat insect stings: wash the affected area with soap and water put a cold flannel on area raise the part of the body that has been stung to

prevent swelling place a bag of frozen peas on the swelling or ice in a towel take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen use a spray or cream containing local anaesthetic, antihistamine or mild hydrocortisone (1%) We don’t have mosquitoes in Ireland but we do have horseflies and midgies which just love napes of necks and ankles.

Always use insect repellent at dawn and dusk, particularly if near water. If you are attacked, up your fluids, take an antihistamine, a cold shower and keep covered up!

Finally, don’t forget your feet. Stock up on blister plasters and spray plasters. It’s at this time of year that athlete’s foot is noticed and also discolouration of nails is more apparent.

See hse.ie for advice on all summerrelated medical issues and www.met.ie for the pollen count.

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