Symptoms: A burning and stinging sensation in the eyes, along with photophobia, blurred vision, and tearing.
Causes: Staying all day at the beach exposes your skin and eyes to the elements. A study by the National Eye Institute in the U.S. says excessive exposure to U.V. radiation from the sun's reflection off the pavement, water, and other surfaces burns the surface of the eye—similar to a sunburn.
Effects: While the corneas can heal as fast as 24 hours, "multiple episodes of photokeratitis or long-term exposure to U.V. light may increase the risk of developing cataracts and various forms of eye cancer," notes a study by Hershel Patel, MS and Robert Applebaum, MD.
Prevention: Protect your eyes from harmful U.V. rays and harsh wind by wearing U.V. protective eyewear—it should block both UVA and UVB radiation—and a wide-brimmed hat when under the sun.
Cure: Artificial tears can replenish lost moisture in the eyes, while anti-inflammatory eyedrops with cyclosporine help relieve pain. Patel and Applebaum urge against using contact lenses for the meantime and suggests using "cold or wet compresses over the eyes." And well, get out of the sun!
2. Swimmer's ear
Symptoms: Itching, decreased hearing, pain that worsens when you tug at the ear, and foul-smelling discharge.
Causes: According to Dr. Lyra Veloro, a pediatric otolaryngologist from The Medical City, "the combination of heat and moisture in the ear canal provides the perfect conditions for infection." Exposure to bacteria-ridden water at the beach, in pools, or communal tubs can also lead to infection.
Effects: Immediate treatment is necessary to prevent the condition from worsening into a deep-tissue infection, which can cause damage to the cartilage and lower bones of the skull, resulting in severe pain, and, if not treated, even death.
Prevention: Use ear plugs while swimming. Use a dry towel or hair dryer to dry ear canals after bathing, and refrain from using cotton swabs to remove ear wax, which can thin the inner ear’s protective coating.
Cure: Have an otolaryngologist remove the debris and "use antibiotic ear drops that inhibit bacterial (or fungal) growth and reduce inflammation," says Dr. Veloro. Severe cases—with ears swollen shut— may require further treatment, such as taking oral antibiotics.
3. Gastrointestinal upset
Symptoms: Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting are common signs of recreational water illnesses (RWI).
Causes: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says some RWIs are "caused by germs spread through swallowing, breathing in, or having contact with contaminated water," usually in public spaces. Along with trash, "most germs end up in the beach from sewage runoff," says Dr. Cybele Abad, an infectious diseases specialist.
Effects: A study by the World Health Organization claims infection by pathogens like E. coli, and Salmonella "can result in hospitalization, surgery, and even death."
Prevention: Don't swim when you have diarrhea and shower properly before getting into the water.
Cure: Make sure you are properly hydrated and see a doc before self-medicating.
This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, April 2014.
* Minor edits have been made by Cosmo.ph editors