5 myths about summer that affect your health

Whether summer means great outdoors or great air conditioning indoors for you, the season comes with a new set of healthy activities—many with less-than-desirable side effects (I’m looking at you, sunburns). It can be difficult to know which well-worn wisdom about summer’s challenges—like poison ivy and mosquitoes—is true and which is essentially nonsense. You’ve probably heard or been told some of these myths about staying healthy during the summer months, so here’s the truth.

Myth # 1: Air conditioning can give you a cold.

The truth: Colds are caused by viruses and only viruses. (Sorry, grandma!) “There’s no evidence that exposure to cold alone causes colds,” says Kwame Akoto, MD, a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente in Baltimore. Too much AC, however, can reduce moisture in your upper airways, causing the lining of the airways to thin and crack, says Dr. Akoto. This can make your throat scratchy and your nose or sinuses feel dry (saline nasal sprays and mists can help, he says). In addition, a poorly maintained air conditioner can be a breeding ground for mold or mildew, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, itching and runny nose, so be sure to change air filters, consider using a HEPA filter, and clean the water that collects.

Myth #2: Poison ivy rashes are contagious.

The truth: Poison ivy rashes look and feel disgusting, but you can’t give them to someone else. “The rash is a reaction to the oil in the plant, and you can get it anywhere the oil touches. That’s the contagious part,” says Purvisha Patel, MD, founder of Advanced Dermatology & Skin Cancer Associates. Once you wash off the poison ivy oil, you should not be able to spread the rash to other people or to new parts of your body. Poison ivy and poison weed oil can be tricky though – it can get under your nails and get on your clothes. Avoid the rash by wearing long clothing in wooded areas and cleaning hands, clothes and pets as soon as you get home. The FDA also recommends wearing washable gloves for yard work and regularly washing tools.

Myth #3: Swimmer’s ear means you have water in your ear canal.

The Truth: Swimmer’s ear is actually the name of a bacterial infection. It’s often caused by water that’s in your outer ear canal—but it’s still around even after everything’s dried out, and it doesn’t always involve water. The infection, which can muffle your hearing and leave your ear swollen, inflamed and red, can also be caused by atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, ear cleaning and certain medications, says Dr. Akoto. However, it is wise to get the water out of your ears before it becomes a problem. Try tilting your head to the side and gently pulling on your earlobe to widen the ear canal, Dr. Akoto says. “Sometimes just lying on that side will allow the fluid to drain on its own,” he adds. You can also wear silicone earplugs while swimming and dry your ears with a towel. And skip the cotton swabs: earwax actually helps protect your ears. If you get swimmer’s ear, your doctor may give you antibiotic ear drops.

Myth #4: Mosquitoes are attracted to certain people because they have sweeter blood.

The truth: These little bloodsuckers descend on you in droves because of how you look and smell, not how you taste. Mosquitoes sense body heat and the smell of sweat, and receptors in their antennae help them detect the carbon dioxide (CO2) we exhale. The more you sweat and the more CO2 you exhale, the more likely they are to land on you. The little buggers are also attracted to people who secrete blood type antigens through their body fluids – 80% of us do, but people with type O blood are particularly prone to it. Mosquitoes also enjoy the smell of certain compounds on our skin, a study in Current Biology found. Protect yourself by wearing insect repellent that contains DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus, and avoid being outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. And don’t wear red to a barbecue—research shows that red attracts mosquitoes.

Myth #5: The higher the SPF, the better.

The Truth: While you want a sunscreen with at least SPF 30, anything above SPF 50 won’t do much in addition to costing you more. SPF refers to the amount of sun rays filtered by the sunscreen, but once the SPF values ​​get high, the difference between them is not that significant. For example, there is a significant difference between SPF 15, which filters 93% of UVB rays, and SPF 30, which filters about 97%. But between SPF 50 and SPF 100, the difference is only 1% (98% vs. 99% of UVB rays, according to the American Cancer Society). To choose the best sunscreen, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and reapply at least every two hours. Additionally, Dr. Patel says it’s wise to wear a hat and stay in the shade whenever possible.

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