Dr Deepak K Agarwal
The writer is senior consultant gastroenterologist, hepatologist & endoscopist and is running a successful medical Centre in Lucknow
All of us are aware of the fact that some diseases are more prominent in certain seasons than others. For instance, cold, flu and cough are common diseases of winters, dengue and malaria of monsoon, and diarrhoea of summers. Of these, the diseases of summers bring along a host of other health problems as well that range from simple ones like a headache, skin rashes, sun burns, etc. to severe ones like measles, jaundice, and more. The months of May and June are usually the hottest in India. While, in some areas, the temperature rises as high as 51 degrees Celsius, there are many regions that experience moderate summers. No matter where one lives, some summer/rains diseases are inevitable. However, as prevention is advisably better than cure, here are some common summer diseases that you must safeguard yourself against.
Food poisoning: The leading cause of food poisoning is consumption of contaminated food or water. It spreads by bacteria, viruses, toxins, and chemicals which, post entering the human body, cause the onset of stomach pain, nausea, diarrhoea or vomiting. Raw meat, food sold in the open by roadside vendors, and contaminated water are common carriers of disease causing microbes.
Heat stroke: If on a hot summer day, you experience headache, drying of skin, cramps, weakness, vomit, increased heart rate, or shallow breathing, it is quite possible you are suffering from a heat stroke. The very first sign of heat stroke is dizziness which is usually followed by a bunch of other conditions such as nausea, seizures, etc. But when it turns severe, it usually leads to a condition of coma. To prevent heat stroke, doctors advise that one must not overdo with clothes, which typically traps the body heat inside and causes problems. Additionally, staying in cooler areas helps avoid heat stroke conditions.
Sun burns: Exposure to the sun for longer durations is not healthy for humans or animals due to penetration of UV rays in the body. People who encounter lower levels of melanin formation are even prone to skin cancer as it causes melanoma. During hot summer days when people are exposed to the sun for an extended period, their skin might turn red, dry, itchy and cracks may develop. Afterwards, the victim usually feels cold, experiencing chills, nausea, vomit, feverish and at times witness flu-like symptoms. If the skin cells burn too much, then blisters might appear on the skin and peeling of dried/dead skin at a later stage may occur. The best way to prevent sunburns is by using sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and taking preventive measures to keep the moisture of skin intact.
Skin rashes: During summers, skin rash is a common skin problem amid children and adults. This typically happens when an individual sweats too much. The sweat accumulates in the clothes and constant rubbing or wearing the sweat laden clothes for a prolonged period causes itchiness and further leads to rash. Skin reddening, dryness, irritation are the visible signs of skin rash.
Chicken pox: Chicken pox makes of one of the most common summer disease. It starts in the form of fluid filled, red and small rashes accompanied by fever as high as 102 Fahrenheit and ultimately turns into fluid-filled blisters which crust or chip over leaving marks on the skin. Usually, the virus (Varicella-zoster) travels through droplets present in the environment exhibited by an infected person either during his/her sneezing or coughing spells. Common symptoms of chickenpox include scabs, blisters, itchy skin, redness, high-grade fever, loss of appetite, and headache which usually lasts for more than a week or two.
Measles: Measles is yet another common summer disease. Also known as rubeola or morbilli, it is more or less the same as chicken pox in the way it is transmitted. It usually infects the lining at the back of the throat. The paramyxo virus which causes measles breeds faster during the summers. Its initial symptoms are cough, high fever, sore throat, and reddening in eyes. At a later stage, the tiny white spots and measles rash appear all over the body. In most of the cases, it starts around the hairline and the face. As a preventive measure, it is usually recommended to get the MMR vaccination (Measles, Mumps and Rubella).
Jaundice: Jaundice is a common water-borne disease. It can be a result of Hepatitis A and is mainly caused due the consumption of contaminated food and water. Jaundice that spreads due to Hepatitis A is transmitted by the faeces-oral route. It is when an uninfected person ingests food or water contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. It can either be foodborne or waterborne. If not treated on time, this disease can affect the functionality of the liver leading to over production of bile. The visible symptoms include, yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes and the whites of the eyes, light-coloured stools, dark-coloured urine and itchy skin.
Typhoid: One of the common diseases in summer and rains is typhoid. Through the oral-faecal route it is passed on to the healthy individuals. It is also known as typhoid fever, water- borne disease. It spreads when the Salmonella typhi bacteria pass through the oral-faecal route. The contaminated food and water sources become the breeding ground for the bacteria leads to the outbreak when consumed. Visible symptoms of typhoid are: weakness, loss of appetite, fatigue, pain in the abdomen, high fever. As a preventive measure vaccination is done to protect typhoid. During vaccination the weakened bacterium is injected in the form of medicine or a pill so as to build the immunity against it.
Mumps: Of all summer/rains diseases mumps is another extremely contagious viral disease. As a summer diseases in India, it occurs mainly in children during peak summer time. It is contagious in nature and gets transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Some of the visible symptoms are: swelled salivary gland, muscle ache, fever, headache, loss of appetite and weakness. To prevent the doctor recommends the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine during treatment.
Stomach ailments: Season change is also the culprit behind stomach pain The most common causes of stomach pain are gastritis and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Therefore, it is important to carefully choose what one eats. It is best to avoid foods that can negatively affect the oesophagus and stomach by stimulating the production of acid. Also avoid foods if they cause discomfort and burning. Activity and exercise help digestion. The balance of bacteria in the gut is affected by a wide variety of factors including stress, lack of sleep, travel, over-indulgence in rich foods, excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates, alcohol, smoking and medications such as antibiotics, steroids and hormones. Gut flora is also affected by the natural aging processes and hormonal fluctuations such as menstruation and pregnancy. Sudden illnesses and food poisoning can also play havoc on the digestive system.
Sleep and the bowel: The amount of sleep and changes in sleep patterns can also affect bowel habits. Just like the rest of the body, the digestive system needs time to relax and recuperate. In current urban lifestyles, many individuals don’t get enough sleep and many also stay up until early hours of the morning either watching TV or surfing the net. This is often accompanied by late night snacking, forcing the digestive system to work at an hour when it should be resting.
Antibiotics vs. bacteria: Although antibiotics kill harmful bacteria, many also kill beneficial bacteria which keep the digestive system healthy. In fact, when one takes antibiotics, up to 60% of the total amount of bacteria in the gut – both good and bad – can be killed, leading to diarrhoea. The aftermath of consuming antibiotics can be countered by eating plenty of foods such as asparagus, banana, garlic, onion, leek, artichoke, etc. These foods help the friendly bacteria in the digestive system multiply. Having a probiotic preparations everyday can also help restore good bacteria balance.