3 Summer Health Hazards & How to Avoid Them

Summer is finally here and most of us are itching to get outside and enjoy summer activities since we spent the past year stuck inside due to the pandemic. Now that you’ll be spending more time outdoors, here are 3 of the most common summer health hazards that you should be aware of and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

When temperatures reach sweltering, that’s when you have to worry about heat exhaustion and heatstroke. These heat-related illnesses can occur when you overexercise or are doing strenuous work in excessive heat and your body is unable to cool itself down. Our body’s natural way of cooling itself down is through sweating. If you are in the heat for an extend period of time, your body may have difficulty producing enough sweat to keep you cool which can lead to heat stroke. There are certain factors that can increase your risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke such as your age.

So how do you know if you are experiencing heat exhaustion or a heat stroke? The easiest way to determine if you are becoming overheated is to stop and take a quick self-examination. Are you sweating heavily? Do you feel dizzy? Is your heart rate elevated? If you find yourself answering yes, to any of the above, you probably should find a cooler location, maybe indoors where the air conditioning is on, and drink water to help rehydrate yourself.

While heat exhaustion and heat stroke can come on suddenly, there are several ways you can avoid them.

  • Take things slower than you normally would especially if you’re not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothes and a hat to help you stay cooler
  • Try to limit your outdoor activity to when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours. Rest often in shady areas so that your body has a chance to recover.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking two to four cups of water every hour that you are doing activities outside in the heat or direct sun and avoid alcohol or caffeine as these can dehydrate you.

2. Sunburns

While many people think a glowing complexion looks good, you are in fact hurting your overall health. The color your skin gets from being in the sun can speed up the effects of aging and can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. When you experience a sunburn, it’s actually an inflammatory reaction to UV radiation damage to the skin’s outermost layers and can range from mild to blistering.

The most important things to note about sunburns are that:

  • Some people are more prone to sunburns, such as people with fair skin, run a higher risk of burning.
  • Even if you are tan or your skin type is dark, the sun can still damage your skin and cause skin cancer.
  • You should protect yourself every day of the year even though the sun’s intensity varies based on the season and time of day.
  • Even if the forecast calls for overcast, you can still burn because up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate through the clouds.
  • If your skin starts to peel after a sunburn, never try to peel the skin yourself and rather let it come off naturally. This is your body’s way of trying to rid itself of damaged cells.

To protect your skin and prevent sunburns:

  • Avoid excessive exposure to the sun during the peak hours of sunlight which is typically between 10 am to 2 pm.
  • Wear sunscreen and check the SPF. The SPF will tell you how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to harm your skin. So, for instance if you use an SPF 50, it would take you 50 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen.
  • Wear sun protective clothing such as long sleeves and hats.

While these are all great ways to avoid a sunburn, no single method of sun defense can protect you perfectly, so layer on these prevention methods.

3. Ticks

There are many different types of insects we encounter outdoors during the summer months, but ticks and tick bites usually generate the most questions and concerns. This is understandable since some ticks can transmit diseases, particularly Lyme disease. For this reason, it’s important to make a habit of checking yourself for ticks after spending time outdoors and remove them immediately so you can reduce your risk of contracting an illness.

Many people will get a local reaction from the tick bite that occurs immediately after, similar to other bug bites. It can be red, swollen and 1 to 2 inches in diameter, but shouldn’t continue to expand. Sometimes it will turn into something that looks like a “bullseye” or target, which is when you should start to be concerned and contact your doctor.

There are multiple things you can do to protect yourself, as best as possible, from ticks

  • Avoid tick-infested areas like wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. If you do find yourself hiking, walk in the center of trails.
  • Dress appropriately if you plan to be in a wooded or grassy area by wearing pants tucked into your socks and long sleeves to help insects from biting or latching on to your skin.
  • Use insect repellent with DEET, permethrin or picaridin.
  • Keeping your grass short can reduce ticks in your yard as ticks are most often found in tall grasses and shrubs.

The key to having a safe and enjoyable summer is to watch out for these summer health hazards.

Tips on Staying Active in the Summer

Now that it is summer, it’s the perfect time to be outdoors. You might be tempted to do all your physical activity outside to take advantage of the warm, sunny weather, but there are a few things to look out for to stay safe when the temperatures and humidity rise.

It’s generally fine to be active outside in 80 degree weather, but any hotter, try to take these precautions to avoid heat-related illness or injury:

  • Stay hydrated. It’s critical to drink plenty of water when it is hot and humid and you are doing any physical activity.
  • Try to exercise in the cooler parts of the day. Take your daily walks or runs in the early morning or right as the sun is setting at night.
  • Stay in a shaded area if possible.
  • Wear light-colored and breathable clothing.
  • Apply sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 and remember to reapply about every 2 hours or right after swimming.
  • Take regular breaks and look out for signs of heat exhaustion such as nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

If you still want to get outside and it’s above 80 degrees, here are some low-intense activities that are great for movement while reducing risk of overheating:

  • Light gardening and yard work in the morning or early evening.
  • Walk or bike in a shaded park.
  • Wash your car and cool yourself off with hose water.
  • Go swimming.

Even if the activity requires less energy, it is still just as important to drink plenty of water, reapply sunscreen, and take breaks if needed. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of heat-related illness, call your provider immediately.

Top 5 Questions Men Should Ask Their Doctor About Their Health

There are many reasons why some people avoid seeing their doctor, but men are particularly hesitant. In fact, over 40% of men only go to the doctor when they think they have a serious medical condition, according to The Cleveland Clinic.

Even if you’re young and healthy, men of all ages can benefit from routine office visits. These annual appointments often uncover anything that’s bothering you from your mental health and sleeping habits to signs of any medical conditions.

To make the most of your time, I’d like to share the top 5 questions I recommend you ask your doctor about your health.

  1. What screenings and/or tests do I need? A critical factor in helping men stay healthy is making sure you get the necessary screenings and/or test you need in a timely fashion. These screenings detect symptoms of certain health conditions early when they are more easily treatable. Based on your age, and of course other factors, your doctor will recommend which screenings and/or test you need done on a regular basis.
  2. Am I at risk for heart disease? As the leading cause of death worldwide, you could be more at risk for developing heart disease if you have a family history of heart disease, you smoke or are obese. Knowing your blood pressure and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise are key to preventing heart disease.
  3. Do I need to lose weight? While weight gain is common in men, you should take notice of your weight and inform your doctor of any sudden fluctuations as your weight could be affecting your health. Whether you want to get fit or manage a chronic disease, your doctor can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle by providing a personalized weight management plan.
  4. Am I exercising enough? Having a proper diet is only one piece of the puzzle to improving your quality of life. Regular exercise can have immediate as well as long-term health benefits. However, before you begin exercising, discuss with your doctor how much physical activity is right for you to make sure you’re doing enough to maintain a healthy weight.
  5. What do I need to do between now and my next visit? Preparing for your next visit by setting goals that you and your doctor tailored just for you not only helps you stay healthy but keeps you accountable.

When it comes to your health, don’t wait to see your doctor. Even if nothing is wrong now, prevention can help reverse any medical issues before they become more serious problems later. So, guys, make your health a priority and schedule an appointment.

3 Benefits of Being a Bilingual Physician

As a physician, being able to communicate well with my patients and their family members is essential. During a visit, patients communicate how they are feeling, what symptoms they may have and how you can potentially help. However, it’s not uncommon to encounter patients whose native language isn’t English. That’s why in today’s multicultural world, being a bilingual physician helps me connect more directly.

There are so many benefits to being bilingual but here are my top 3:

  1. I am able to form deeper personal connections. One of the advantages of having a primary care doctor that can communicate in your native language is the opportunity to better connect with your doctor in a more meaningful way; therefore, helping to provide a more comfortable experience.
  2. I can have a better understanding of the patient’s needs. Having a primary care doctor who is fluent in your native language can also help to provide culturally specific care by being sensitive and responsive to your cultural beliefs and traditions.
  3. We can form a stronger doctor-patient relationship. Being able to communicate with your doctor in a private and personal setting without the use of a third-party translator enhances the relationship by removing barriers to care.

Tips to Alleviate Migraines

Migraines aren’t typical headaches or even a severe one. It’s a serious neurological condition that can trigger symptoms like vomiting, nausea, dizziness, numbness, and sensitivity to light and sound. When a migraine strikes, you’ll do almost anything to make it go away.

Based upon your severity, there are different approaches I recommend you use to help alleviate, treat and prevent migraines.

Some non-medication approaches include:

  • Following a healthy lifestyle, staying well hydrated, getting regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep.
  • Avoiding certain foods that can be migraine triggers. Common triggers can be alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, canned foods, cured or processed meats, aged cheeses, cultured dairy, MSG and aspartame.
  • Acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, spinal manipulation, relaxation techniques and reducing your stress.

Even if you avoid your triggers and practice healthy habits, you may still experience migraines. Some patients who suffer with frequent migraines—greater than 14 headache days a month—can find relief from preventative medications that are taken daily.

Abortive medications, ones that are taken at the first sign of the migraine, include anti-inflammatory medications, triptans and a newer class of medications called CGRP antagonists.

    • Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen along with other over the counter medications like Excedrin and acetaminophen need to be used cautiously as taking these medications too often for headaches can result in rebound headaches.
    • Triptans are a class of medications that are available in multiple preparations and can be given by mouth, nasal spray or subcutaneous injection.  These should be used with caution in anyone with cardiovascular disease.
    • Calcitonin-gene related peptide (CGRP) antagonists have shown benefit for individuals who get insufficient response to other abortive medications or have contraindications to them.

It is important to remember that migraines affect and present in different ways for each individual and not all treatments are suitable for everyone. Please make sure to talk to your doctor to come up with the best treatment approach for you.

Ticks & Lyme Disease

With the warm summer weather, comes tick season and the chances of getting Lyme disease. Lyme disease is an illness caused by a bacteria that is carried by the blacklegged tick, most commonly know as a deer tick. When an infected tick bites you, it can transfer the bacteria under the skin, leading to an infection. If not diagnosed and treated early, Lyme disease can develop into a chronic illness, causing long-term health problems. However, if caught and treated early, most people can recover without any problems. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent Lyme disease and monitor ticks while being able to enjoy the outdoors.

  • If you are hiking or camping in the woods, wear clothing that will cover your arms and legs, and tuck your pants into socks to limit tick access.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to easily identify ticks.
  • As soon as you are home or indoors, check yourself or have someone help look for ticks. Use a fine-tooth comb to check your hair and check your entire body.
  • Shower and wash any clothes at a high heat to kill any ticks.

To remove ticks:

  • Use sterilized forceps such as tweezers to grab and pull the entire tick out. Avoid twisting or squeezing the tick and be careful not to leave any remains in the skin.
  • Wash your hands and the tweezers after removal.

If you missed a tick on yourself or family member, here are some signs of an infection:

  • Fever/chills
  • Aches and pains. Tickborne diseases may cause headaches, fatigue, and muscle aches. With Lyme disease, you may also experience joint pain.
  • In Lyme disease, a rash may appear within 3-30 days of infection and typically before a fever. The rash will appear circular, also appearing as a ‘bullseye’ rash. It may be warm to the touch but not painful.

Reduce tick populations in your own habitat:

  • Ticks like tall grasses and brush. Try removing these form areas near your house or the edges of your lawn.
  • Keep the lawn mowed and raked free of grasses and leaves.
  • If your lawn or play area backs up to the woods, consider creating a 3-foot wide buffer using wood chips or gravel to reduce migration of ticks.
  • High fencing can discourage tick-carrying deer from entering your yard.
  • Help reduce the rodent population that ticks often feed on (chipmunks, mice, etc.) by neatly stacking wood piles in a dry area and keeping your yard free of debris.
  • Place tick tubes around your yard. Damminix and Thermacell are two commercially available tick tubes, or you can also make your own. Here is a video explaining how to make your own tick tubes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj-0l9KpUaw

Contact your doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and develop any of these symptoms.

Allergies or Something Else?

April showers don’t just bring spring showers but also spring allergies. Allergies are caused by our immune system overreacting to an increased output of pollen from trees, grass, and weeds being released into the air. When people inhale this pollen, it can trigger allergies. While allergies are very common, severe allergies can make it hard to determine whether it is seasonal allergies or something more serious. 

Typically, a key indicator that it is seasonal allergies is that your symptoms tend to be more long-lasting than those that are viral. Plus, most people with allergies have a history of seasonal allergies that occur around the same time every year.  

The most common and bothersome allergy symptoms are:  

  • Nasal congestion 
  • Sneezing 
  • Itchy eyes, nose, ears, and mouth 
  • Watery eyes 
  • Runny nose 

Some less common allergy symptoms include: 

  • Headache 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Wheezing 
  • Coughing 

For most people, avoiding allergens and taking over-the-counter medications is enough to ease symptoms. But if your symptoms are not improving and appear to be getting worsereach out to your personal R-Health doctor. Your doctor will be able to determine if you have allergies and may provide you with strategies to help keep them under control. 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NJWELL

Over the past few weeks, many of you have reached out with NJWELL questions and/or updates. Here is a comprehensive breakdown of everything you need to know about NJWELL.

Let’s start with an overview of NJWELL for those who may not be familiar with the program. NJWELL is a voluntary employee wellness program designed to help eligible members of the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP) and School Employees’ Health Benefits Program (SEHBP) live a healthy lifestyle.

NJWELL offers various wellness incentive levels, anywhere from $250 – $500, to active SHBP and SEHBP members and their covered spouses or partners who participate in the state’s Direct Primary Care Medical Home program.

How It Works and What You Need To Do

R-Health and NJWELL have partnered to make it easier for active SHBP and SEHBP members to earn their NJWELL reward. Despite the present circumstances with COVID-19, you can still earn your reward by engaging with us virtually.

R-Health members automatically earn between $250 – $500 by completing the following between November 1 and October 31.

  • Complete a health assessment through your health plan’s online portal. You can sign into your portal, here
  • Complete a comprehensive physical examination and at least one follow up appointment with your R-Health doctor or complete two virtual visits (with one focused on prevention and wellness)

If you have questions regarding your NJWELL reward, please contact Horizon’s support staff directly at 1.800.414.7427.

Getting Your Mental Health in Check

We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel when things don’t go according to plan. How we handle stress could be related to our mental health, which plays a huge role in how we think, feel, and act.

Like so many, talking about mental health can be hard—however it’s more common than you may think. Nearly 1 in 5 American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year according to Mental Health America.

But did you know that your primary doctor, like me, can help you identify triggers as well as develop specific goals and strategies to help get your mental health in check? In doing so, I like to start by having an honest conversation with my patients. You can do a quick mental check in at home by asking yourself the 4 questions below.

  1. How are you feeling today, both physically and mentally?
  2. How have you been sleeping?
  3. Have you been isolating yourself from others?
  4. Are you always worrying about the worst-case scenarios?

If you’re concerned about your responses, reach out to me. Getting help starts with talking to your doctor. We can work together to create a plan that will teach you how to cope. The most important thing is that you get help.

Reducing Exposure to Environmental Toxins

Environmental toxins can be found all over our homes – in our furniture, food, clothes, personal care items, and household cleaners. Exposure to these toxins may be contributing to diseases like obesity, diabetes, allergies, and asthma. By breathing in and being exposed to toxins, there are several ways they are affecting our health:

  • Interfere with glucose and cholesterol metabolism and induce insulin resistance
  • Disrupt cell function
  • Cause stress on the body
  • Promote inflammation
  • Alter thyroid health
  • Impair appetite regulation

Fortunately, there are ways to recognize and reduce our exposure to environmental toxins:

  • Remove food toxins. Stay away from processed and refined foods and try to stick to the EWG Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists to choose where you spend your money when purchasing organic since it is not necessary to purchase everything organic.
  • Reduce the amount of toxic exposures at home. Choose non-toxic household cleaners, beauty, and bath products. Look for plant-based cleaners or even make your own.
  • Minimize exposure to pesticides. Remove your shoes when you enter your home to limit tracking lawn pesticides throughout your home.
  • Keep mold at bay. Mold, mildew, and fungal toxins can also cause a range of health problems. Keep air filters clean, try to keep humidity below 60% to reduce mold growth, and regularly clean and dry any areas where water may build up like showers and sinks.
  • Avoid products that contain phthalates. This is a compound that is often found in plastics. Check the labels of products to ensure they are phthalate-free, avoid storing food in plastic containers, and look for natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wood, and bamboo when buying drapery, window blinds and shades.

We can’t control every environmental toxin from entering our home so it’s important to regularly clean, dust, sweep/vacuum, and invest in an air-purifier to keep our homes as toxin-free as possible to keep us healthy.