Staying safe in the summer sunWORTHINGTON — After a brutal winter and a stormy spring, nothing seems more attractive than basking in the sunshine. Still, the summer sun and the heat can be hazardous.
WORTHINGTON — After a brutal winter and a stormy spring, nothing seems more attractive than basking in the sunshine. Still, the summer sun and the heat can be hazardous.
“The first thing you always have to remember — make sure you get hydrated a couple days before the heat wave arrives. If you get thirsty, you’re already dehydrated,” said Kevin Ree, a family practitioner at Sanford Worthington Clinic. “It’s more important to drink water than sports drinks.”
Sports drinks often contain excess electrolytes and sugars, which may cause symptoms of heat-related illnesses to worsen. Ree recommends drinking twice as much water as sports drinks.
Caffeinated drinks should be avoided, because they’ll cause a small amount of water loss, and alcohol will dehydrate a person quickly.
Alcohol should be limited or eliminated completely during hot spells.
People who remain outdoors when it gets hot should have a way to get out of direct sunlight, and stay in the shade as much as possible.
“From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is the hottest time of the day,” said Jessica Hohenstein, nurse manager with Avera Medical Group Worthington. “Avoid any strenuous activities and relax in the middle of the day.”
Hohenstein recommends exercising and gardening in the early morning hours or in the evening.
Heat exhaustion is essentially a combination of dehydration and being overheated, Ree explained, whereas heat stroke is when the body actually starts to shut down as a response to the heat.
People with heat exhaustion experience profuse sweating, fatigue, thirst and muscle cramps, and as the heat exhaustion becomes more severe and starts to become heat stroke, they can also experience headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea and vomiting and cool, moist skin.
Heat stroke sufferers experience fevers, irrational behavior, extreme confusion, rapid, shallow breathing, seizures and unconsciousness and have a rapid, weak pulse. They can also have hot, dry, red skin.
“Heat exhaustion is more mild, but if you’re experiencing heat exhaustion for a long enough time, the resulting effect can last for weeks,” Ree noted. “It’s almost flu-like, with body aches and joint aches.”
Heat-related illnesses can happen at any time people don’t watch their water intake, but the risks increase when the temperatures soar into the mid-90s.
The elderly are at higher risk, because their bodies don’t adapt to temperature changes quickly. Children and adolescents can tolerate heat for a long time, but by the time they begin to show symptoms, they can deteriorate rapidly, Ree warned.
Diabetics must also be especially careful, because dehydration can cause artificially high blood sugar. Anyone with kidney problems or heart or lung disease should be extremely cautious.
Swimmers should be sure to drink water, because they may not realize they’re getting dehydrated.
Staying safe in the sunlight means avoiding sunburns, which increase the risk of skin cancer.
“The younger (children) are when they’re getting sunburn, that significantly increases the chance of cancer later,” Hohenstein said. “If parents can keep them from getting burned, that helps a lot.”
People who are going to be outside need to use sunscreen, and the higher the SPF (sun protection factor), the longer it is possible to stay outdoors without getting burned.
Suntans can still be had with sunscreen, which should be reapplied as frequently as the label indicates, and more frequently if swimming or sweating occurs. Spray-on sunscreens are very easy for people to put on by themselves, and don’t require a lot of reaching like lotion does, and many makeup products also contain sunscreen.
“One thing that helps more than anything is some type of hat over the top of the ears and the tip of the nose,” Ree said, because often those are the places that get the most sun exposure.
Though light-skinned people are more at risk for severe sunburns, dark-skinned people shouldn’t take risks either, Ree said. If a sunburn blisters, it is at least a second-degree burn and should be evaluated by someone, because the risk of infection increases.
Parents should be especially careful, because children often don’t notice their skin is burning .
“On cloudy days you can still get sunburned,” Hohenstein said. “You’re still at risk with (any) sun exposure.”
Should a sunburn occur, the victim should take a cool shower or a cool bath to help pull the heat out of the skin, Ree added. Over-the-counter sunburn creams and gels can help soothe the pain. Ibuprofen or naproxen can soothe the inflammation and relieve pain.