Finally, spring has sprung! That means warmer weather, longer days, more chances to enjoy the outdoors, and -- in my experience as a physician -- health opportunities as well as health challenges. While the spring season does offer the chance to pick up on those healthy New Year's resolutions that you might have conveniently forgotten, it is not without its share of misconceptions. Let's take a look at five common spring health myths and why they are more fiction than fact.
1."It's the change in temperature that comes with the season; it always makes me sick!"
Humans have survived for thousands of years in vastly different climates around the globe due to our ability to adapt to our environments. Do you really think our species would still exist if all it took were a simple change in temperature to make us sick? Those who do get sick early in the season are not victims of abrupt temperature changes. Rather, it's more likely that symptoms are caused by exposure to allergens that reappear in our environments with the change of season. Global warming may be real, but the temperature change itself usually doesn't directly impact your health. You need to watch out for allergies ,which brings us to myth #2.
2."I didn't have allergies as a kid, so I'm too old to start getting them now."
Though many people commonly develop allergies in childhood, it's never too late for them to start. Be on the lookout for symptoms ranging from itchy, watery eyes to coughing and sneezing to difficulty breathing. If you notice these symptoms occurring for the first time when you haven't had them in previous years, then it's a good time to see your doctor about an allergy consultation. Be sure to note down when the symptoms occurred, how frequently you get them, where you were and what you were doing when they started, and any triggers you can think of. And having symptoms while indoors doesn't exclude the possibility of seasonal allergies; pollen can find its way into your home on clothing or through open doors or windows. I made a video a few years ago with an ENT surgeon, and he explains how pollen and allergens can get into places that you least expect.
3."I need to get my skin ready for the sun. Those indoor tanning beds are safe, everybody uses them."
How many of you have thought that you should get a "base" tan before you head out to the beach? Think about it... does that really make sense? Scientific evidence actually does not support the idea that "preemptive" indoor tanning can protect the skin from actual sun exposure. And while a tan appearance may be desirable, there are safer ways to do it than sustained exposure to ultraviolet light. In fact, people who begin tanning before age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma. Sunless tanning sprays and lotions carry risks of their own but are generally safer than UV tanning beds when used as directed.
4. "Now that it's nice outside again, I can go back to running like I used to."
I applaud the effort of anyone who is trying to exercise regularly and get fit. Indeed, many avid runners make the distinction between running outside on the ground and running inside on a treadmill. But if you've taken a long layoff from running when the cold winter set in, then trying to return immediately to your previous speed and distance can put you at risk for injuries like stress fractures, shin splints and muscle strains. It's safer to start slowly and gradually increase your endurance over weeks. And what about stretching before the run? It's better to spend a few minutes doing a low intensity warmup.
5. "The ticks won't be out until late summer."
If only that were true. In fact, peak tick season begins coincidentally the same time that most of us head outdoors to enjoy the spring weather! When ticks bite, they transmit bacteria into our skin that then finds its way into our bloodstream and causes serious illness, like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And Rocky Mountain spotted fever actually occurs most often in the South, so don't be fooled by the name. The CDC recommends avoiding heavily wooded or grassy areas and using permethrin on clothing and DEET-based repellents on skin to keep the pests away. When you come inside, check your clothing and then your body thoroughly for ticks or have someone else check you everywhere -- and I mean everywhere, including in the ears and nestled among hair. If you find an attached tick, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the head firmly as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out. Conventional methods of tick removal include freezing or burning it off, but a good pair of tweezers does the job just fine. Then, thoroughly clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soapy and water. If you develop a rash or fever within a few days of discovering the tick, see your doctor.
With these myths exposed, you can enjoy the bounties of the springtime without compromising your health.
For more by John Whyte, M.D., MPH, click here.
For more on fitness and exercise, click here.