We have officially entered the summer solstice, which will last through most of September, and looking at the weather forecast for this upcoming week, we will definitely be feeling it as we inch closer to 100-degree temperatures. This is a good time to review some do’s and don’ts of basking in the sun.
As many of you know the sun can literally bring us happiness by providing us with Vitamin D, but it can also bring us pain in the form of sunburns and heat injuries. Some of you may already have had personal experience with this type of pain already this season. It’s no big deal, right? Actually, it can be a big deal and here’s why:
Let’s start with heat injuries, specifically heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These conditions occur when the body overheats and is unable to cool itself down, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Typically, the body is able to cool itself by sweating, however, sweating may not be enough when exposure to extreme heat occurs. This is because body temperature rises faster than it can cool itself down. These type of heat injuries are dangerous if not treated promptly, because this type of exposure can cause damage to vital organs, including the brain.
So, how do you know if someone is experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke? Look for these warning signs:
• Body temperature of 103 degrees or higher
• Hot, red, dry or damp skin
• Fast, strong pulse
• Heavy sweating
• Cold, pale, clammy skin
• Fast, weak pulse
• Nausea, vomiting
• Muscle cramps
• Weakness or fatigue
Although heat stroke and heat exhaustion are both dangerous, heat stroke is a medical emergency. What should you do if you or someone you know is suffering from heat stroke? First, call 911. Move the individual to a cooler place, help lower their temperature by applying cool cloths or putting them into a cool bath. It’s important not to give a person suffering from heat stroke anything to drink, especially if they are unconscious and also because this may cause stomach cramping.
In the case of heat exhaustion, it’s also important to move the person to a cool place and apply cool cloths to his or her body. It is OK to have the individual sip water. Seek medical attention if the person begins vomiting, symptoms worsen or last more than one hour.
Now, let’s discuss another painful sun-related condition that we’ve all experienced: sunburns. The cause of sunburns is radiation, from you guessed it, the sun. Because it’s radiation that causes these type of burns, one side effect is cancer. Skin cancer to be exact.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (2020):
• 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
• More than two people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
• Having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma, which is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
• When detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%.
The good news is that we can protect ourselves from the sun to help prevent sunburns, skin cancer and heat injuries. The CDC recommends applying sunscreen, specifically a “broad spectrum” or UVA/UVB protective sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher at least 30 minutes prior to going outside. Sunscreen should be reapplied regularly, according to instructions on the bottle.
In addition to wearing sunscreen, wear appropriate clothing. Lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing is best.
Staying hydrated is another obvious choice when enjoying outdoor activities in the heat. Drinking more water, regardless of how active you are is extremely important. Avoid sugary and alcoholic drinks as these can actually cause you to lose fluid. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink; thirst is a sign you may already be dehydrated.
When planning your outdoor activities, plan them carefully. Limiting activities to when it’s coolest, such as early morning and evening will help prevent sunburns and heat injuries. It’s also important to pace yourself when it comes to activities. Do not overexert yourself in the heat, especially if you are not used to physical activity in a hot environment.
And finally, one more (interesting) way to help protect yourself while enjoying the sun is to avoid hot and heavy meals because they add heat to your body!
Summer is a time to play, relax and enjoy activities with family and friends. Make your summer as enjoyable as possible by being smart about your activities. Wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, educated and don’t forget to follow the social-distancing guidelines to ensure a great summer.