We’re all enjoying the fun and sun of the summer. Get out there, hit the beach and enjoy yourself. Dr Richard Johnigan has seen patients “down south” since 2007. “There are some important things to keep in mind during the summer months when it comes to your ears, nose and throat” Dr. Johnigan said when asked about ENT problems related to the summer and what we can do about them…
Here Comes The Sun
The most sun-exposed area of out bodies is our face. The head is the most common area to develop skin cancer as a result of sun exposure. Ear, nose & throat doctors see a lot of skin cancers develop on the top curve of the ears, scalps and noses; these are areas that get a lot of sun exposure. In the United Stated, people develop more skin cancers on the left side of the face, because this side of the face is exposed to sun when driving. Exposure to a lot of sun and sunburns early in life puts a person at higher risk for skin cancers later in life.
It is important at all ages to wear sunscreen or sun barriers when you are going to be out in the sun for more that 30 minutes. Protecting your skin from the sun will prevent annoying and painful sunburns in the short term, but sun protection will also prevent accelerated aging of the skin and wrinkles later in life. Most importantly, it can prevent the development of skin cancers.
Sun protection involves wearing hats, rash guards and sunscreen. With regard to sunscreen, SPF means Sun Protective Factor. In theory, the if the SPF is 15, it should allow you to stay in the sun for a period of time 15 times longer than it would typically take for you to develop a sunburn. In other words, if it would typically take you 10 minutes to develop a sunburn, a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 should give you 150 minutes (SPF 15 x 10 minutes) in the sun without a sunburn. SPFs can be as high as 100, but don’t let that fool you; you should still reapply sunscreen every 2 hours while your in the sun to ensure protection. A SPF of 30 is typically considered adequate.
Water In The Ears Can Cause Some Issues
Due to the heat of Texas, it is almost mandatory to get into some sort of water if you are going to be outside. Whether it is the beaches of Galveston, the Comal River of New Braunfels or a community splash pad, it is important to protect you ears. Water sitting in the ear canal can cause an infection, called swimmer’s ear, to develop. The medical term for a swimmer’s ear is otitis externa, which means inflammation of the outer ear canal. This is a painful swelling of the ear canal skin.
It is important to make sure that your ear canals are dry after exposure to water. Some people have narrow ear canals, and this makes it harder to get water out of their ear canals, and they are more prone to this type of infection. There are a few good ways to get water out of your ears. First you should pull back on your outer ear – called the pinna. This will straighten your ear canal. Then, wave a fan or use a hair dry to convex air into your ear canal in order to dry out the moisture.
How To Take Care Of Ear Issues
There are over-the-counter products that dry out your ear canals but you can also use over-the-counter isopropyl alcohol for the same effect. Fill the ear canal up with the solution and then let the solution drain out. Put the solution in the ear canal until you can feels it get deep in the ear canals (usually a few seconds) and then dump the solution out so it can start evaporating and removing the water. You can repeat this several times until your ear feels dry.
Some patients are prone to getting infections in their ear canals. In order to be very protective, you can wear earplugs. Over the counter earplugs are available in many forms such as mold-able wax or compressible foam. All over-the-counter earplugs work, the key is to find what works well for you and then use it. I am not recommending that everyone use earplugs, but if you find that you are prone to having ear problems after water exposure, earplugs would be advisable.
If your develop ear pain and loss of hearing a day or two after swimming, you are probably developing a swimmer’s ear. You can try the above interventions to treat this, but if you are not improving, I would recommend that you see a physician quickly. Once and infection has started, you will need treatment with antibiotics ear drops in order to clear the infection. The longer the infection goes on, the more painful and swollen the ear canal will become, and the infection will become more difficult to treat.
Learn more about Swimmer’s Ear here.
Allergies In The Summer?
Summer is not thought of as an allergy season like spring and fall, but it is a time of year when grass blooms. If you look at an allergy forecast in the summer, it generally says, “Grass pollen.” Our dominant grass pollens are from Bermuda and Johnson grass. Grass pollen is a relatively heavy pollen, so is does not blow far in the wind like tree and weed pollen. This is why is does not cause as many problems because it remains largely on the ground. People will generally have problems with grass pollen if they are in or near the grass. You may see people mowing grass and wearing a mask or handkerchief. These are good barriers to prevent inhaling the grass pollen. If grass pollen is inhaled, it can cause nasal congestion, itching eyes, nasal drainage, wheezing, sneezing and sinus pressure.
What To Do About Summer Allergies
Taking allergy medication before exposure to grass pollen can be helpful. The key to taking any allergy medication is to take it before the exposure. Over-the-counter nasal sprays like Flonase and Nasacort work best if used routinely and before the exposure to the allergen. The same goes for oral antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra and Xyzal. Taking these medications before playing in the grass or mowing the lawn will get you a much better result, than taking them after the exposure. You can still use them after the symptoms have started, but they generally do not work as well.
We hope this information is helpful… now for the REALLY important information from Dr Johnigan:
- Never hate on the humidity of Houston! The humidity keeps our skin moist and prevents wrinkles later in life.
- If you have any type of skin injury it will heal faster if you bathe it in the water of Galveston Island beaches!
- The breeze on Galveston Island never stops!
- Beer tastes better on Galveston!
- As long as there is air conditioning, it’s not really that hot!
If you find yourself with ear, nose or throat issues during the summer (and year round), remember that our physicians are here to help you. Use our Online Appointment Request to see a Board Certified Ear Nose and Throat Specialist in one of our 16 locations. For more information check out the articles below.
This article was provided by Dr. Richard Johnigan.