It might feel like we never get any sunshine in Scotland, but as we reach the summer solstice, we’ve already enjoyed a few weeks of warm, sunny weather. The longer days provide us that extra opportunity to spend time outdoors, which we know is beneficial to our physical and mental health. It’s important we know how to keep ourselves and each other safe while we make the most of the summer months.
Heat can affect our health in many ways, from difficulty sleeping to more serious situations such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Everyone is at risk during hot weather, however some groups of people are at higher risk of becoming unwell - people over 65, babies and young children, people with underlying health conditions, and people experiencing homelessness.
There are some easy, practical steps you can take to protect yourself and those around you in hot weather:
- Stay hydrated: make sure you drink plenty of fluids and reduce alcohol and caffeine intake
- Stay cool: seek shade in the hottest part of the day between 11am and 3pm and keep your home cool by closing windows and curtains in rooms that face the sun
- Stay protected: use sunscreen (SPF30 and 4 star UVA), wear a hat and sunglasses to protect from harmful rays, which can cause sunburn
Many of us enjoy cooking and eating outdoors in the summer. It’s important to follow good food hygiene practices to avoid anyone becoming unwell. Germs present in raw or under-cooked food, such as campylobacter in chicken, can cause unpleasant and potentially serious food poisoning. Make sure food is thoroughly cooked, use separate utensils for raw and cooked food and keep ready-to-eat food separate.
Swimming can be a tempting way to cool down in warmer weather and the health benefits of wild swimming are widely recognised, but it is important to be careful. Water temperatures, particularly in Scotland’s lochs and rivers, can be very cold and there is a risk of cold water shock. There are some easy ways to stay safe:
- Avoid swimming alone
- Plan entry and exit points carefully
- Avoid submerging suddenly under water, especially your head
- Don’t swim under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
Another challenge is the quality of the water you are swimming in. The presence of certain bacteria and viruses, such as Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), in open waters can increase the risk of being exposed to bugs that might cause vomiting or diarrhoea, or a range of other infections. Up to date information on water quality at designated bathing water sites is available from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Many of us plan trips abroad over the summer too and it is important to consider how best to stay healthy and avoid illness before you travel.
It is essential to check if the country you are travelling to requires vaccinations for particular diseases, or if preventative malaria treatment is advised. It’s also important to consider any health conditions you or your fellow travellers may have: what medications you need to take with you and what additional precautions should be taken to make travel as safe as possible. The FitForTravel website contains general advice and information on travel health, as well as country specific risks.
If appropriate you can arrange a travel health risk assessment via your local heath board.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria. You can get Legionnaires' disease if you breathe in tiny droplets of water containing bacteria that causes the infection. Symptoms can include a cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and a high temperature.
The bacteria can be found in water sources, in both natural and man-made environments such as air-conditioning units, jacuzzies and showers. It's usually caught in places like hotels when the bacteria get into the water supply. When travelling, running any showers and taps on hot for a few minutes and opening windows where possible, can help minimise any risk of infection.
A less common type of legionella bacteria can be found in damp potting compost or mud. It is advisable to ensure good hygiene in relation to gardening: wearing gloves, wearing a mask if the workspace is dusty, particularly indoors and washing hands immediately after and especially before eating or drinking.
Although the rain may have returned this week, there’s no doubt the sunshine and heat will return - last year we saw the hottest day on record. Let’s enjoy the benefits of the summer season while keeping ourselves and others safe and healthy as we do so.
Follow along on our social channels using the hashtag #PHSSummerInfo
Health advice and tips for summer: Summer health | NHS inform
Information on how to stay safe and healthy abroad: Home - Fit for Travel
Information on some of the risks and the steps you can take to swim as safely as possible: Wild swimming: how to swim safely in Scotland's outdoor water - Publications - Public Health Scotland
Water quality: Bathing Waters: Homepage (sepa.org.uk)
UK weather warnings: UK weather warnings - Met Office
Food safety information: Food Standards Scotland
You might also want to read our blog on staying healthy in spring, which has further information on staying well while we spend more time outdoors.