Keep self-care on your summer to-do list

According to news reports, this past July 4 was the hottest the Earth has ever been. Here at home, it was indeed hot, but that still did not stop the wonderful Fourth of July parade, which celebrated not only our nation's birth but also our town's 150th year (the of my new favorite words). Personally, summer is my absolute favorite season: the days are long and bright; the weather is warm; and there is so much opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. With the warm weather can come some health risks, and as a lung and critical care physician, I wanted to share these few health tips.

First, yes, the days are longer, and with daylight savings time, there is more sunlight in the evening hours. This can tempt us to skimp on sleep to maximize our enjoyment of the days. Resist this temptation. Getting enough sleep is of tantamount importance, and sleep deprivation can cause myriad health problems. In fact, sleep deprivation can impair someone as if they are intoxicated with alcohol or drugs. Try as best as possible to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, with most people needing between seven and eight hours of sleep a night. If the bright sunlight disturbs you in the morning, then getting an eye mask to block out the sunlight is a good idea.

Second, with the heat and sunshine of summer can come the risk of dehydration, sunburn, and heat stroke. Make sure you apply plenty of sunscreen, with as high of a SPF as possible, so that you don't get burned. Making sure you are well hydrated is equally as important, especially if engaged in outdoor activities. Even golfing for a few hours can lead to serious dehydration when it is very hot.

And, when hydrating, it is crucial that some sort of electrolyte replacement is included, whether it be in the drink itself or in the form of food (pretzels and bananas are great ways to get electrolytes). Drinking just water - all the while losing electrolytes in our sweat - can lead to hyponatremia, or low sodium levels in the blood, and this can be deadly (which I have seen in my ICU during the summer months).

Along those same lines, it is important to be careful not to consume excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol, as they both can act as diuretics and lead to a lot of water loss. Many of these "energy drinks" on the market have tons of caffeine (and sugar) and may not be advisable in the hot weather.

As the Canadian wildfires seem to be continuing to rage unabated, it is likely we will have more days of haze and poor air quality due to smoke blowing in our area. That, combined with heat and humidity, can cause a lot of respiratory problems, especially for people with underlying lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. When these days do occur, it would be best to minimize time outdoors (as much as that pains me to say). Wearing a good fitting N95 or KN95 mask is not a bad idea if you have spend time outdoors during a bad air quality day, but I do recognize this may be difficult to do.

With all of this said, I do not want anyone to think that, to stay totally safe, we need to coop ourselves indoors the entire summer. Far from it. Go out and enjoy the sun, warmth, and daylight. Take in the beauty that summer brings. All we need to do is be smart and practical while enjoying this wonderful season. Have a great rest of your summer, neighbors!

- Hesham Hassaballa is a former contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].