Summer is a time for sipping coffee on the patio as the sun rises, lounging by the pool and indulging in a wine and cheese picnic in the park.
So why do so many of us end up spending some of it in the doctor's office?
While many emergency rooms see more trauma cases during warmer months — due to sports injuries, for instance — summer also brings a host of small health problems that can be a big pain.
Exert yourself too much or get too dehydrated in extreme heat and you could end up with heat stroke. Take a barefoot walk by a public pool and you might develop athlete's foot. Spend some time working in your yard and you could come into contact with a Lyme disease-transmitting tick.
That's all it took for Diane Blanchard, co-founder of Greenwich, Conn.-based Time For Lyme, a nonprofit Lyme disease research, education and advocacy group. Blanchard was infected for a year before she learned of the disease and asked her doctor about it. Once an early morning runner, she had gotten to the point where she could barely get out of bed.
"So many people might ignore it and think it's the summer flu," Blanchard says. "That's not normal. It should be cause for alarm."
More prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest, Lyme disease usually shows up in the form of a rash that looks like a bull's eye. It can cause joint pain, chills, fever and fatigue. A stiff, aching neck and tingling or numbness in the extremities are other bad signs.
If you're going to spend time outside, remember to do a thorough nightly tick check, including the scalp and creased areas like the back of the knee, where ticks like to feed, Blanchard says.
When you're out and about this summer, don't forget to wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection as religiously as your sunscreen. A great way to prevent wrinkling around the eyes, they're also the best method for protecting your eyelids from skin cancer, since people rarely apply sunscreen there.
Wearing shades can also prevent damage that leads to cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in Americans aged 60 and over, says Dr. Paul T. Finger, director of Ocular Tumor Services at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.
People who work outdoors, take drugs such as the common acne treatment tetracycline, and have blue eyes are particularly at risk. Blue eyes are more damage-prone because they have less light-absorbing pigment. Children should take up the habit too, Finger says. Their eyes are most at risk of absorbing UV light, which harms the retina.
While it may not send you running to the doctor's office, the seasonal mix of chlorine, sea salt, wind and sun exposure can cause a bad-hair summer. Just two or three dips in the pool and your locks may turn limp, lose their shine and even take on a chemical scent, especially if your hair is color treated.
Paule Attar, president of the Paule Attar Salon and Spa in Bellevue, Wash., says you can prevent damage to your strands by applying a water-resistant, moisturizing spray containing palm oil or shea butter. After a swim, use a clarifying shampoo, and if you're really in need of repair, try a three-minute hair mask made of almond oil.
"It removes the damage," Attar says. "Voila."
Even if you know how to avoid poison ivy and never leave home without a few sprays of DEET or lemon eucalyptus oil, some summer ailments can sneak up on you.
A day of gardening may sound like a relaxing Saturday activity, but without some basic precautions, you could easily strain your muscles and joints, says Paula Kramer, chair of occupational therapy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Kramer recommends stretching for a few days prior to starting work in the garden, using well-oiled tools with spring-action, self-opening features and taking frequent breaks to decrease stress on your back, knees and hips. Don't aim to finish the job in one day, either. You wouldn't play tennis for four hours on your first day out for the season.
If you've already overdone it, however, pay attention to your body and make sure you give yourself some time to heal.
"Take some ice, make yourself a tall drink and plan to go back to the garden next week," Kramer says.
Smell the roses, too, while you're at it. Isn't that what summer's all about?