Being outside during summer can be full of fun, but it’s not without risk. Here are some tips to stay safe while enjoying your time in the sun.
Protection from UV Radiation
If you plan to be outside, it’s important to protect your skin from the damaging ultra-violet rays of the sun. Sunscreen of SPF 30 applied 15 to 30 minutes before you’re in the sun (and then every 2 hours while you remain outside) provides a defensive barrier between your skin and the sun’s burning rays. If you’re sweating or swimming, apply sunscreen more often.
If you’re unsure how much sunscreen to use, here’s a guide: one teaspoon on your face and neck, two teaspoons on your front and back, one teaspoon for each upper extremity (arms and hands), and two teaspoons for each lower extremity (legs and feet).
Another way to protect your skin is to wear a hat and UV-protective clothing. Those with fair skin are more prone to burn, but everyone should protect their skin against the sun. Not only does sun protection reduce your chances of skin cancers like basil cell carcinoma and melanoma, it also reduces signs of aging such as wrinkles and the leathery texture that can come with too much sun exposure over time.
There are three types of sunburns. First-degree burns are surface burns where your skin gets red and painful. Second-degree burns affect the epidermis (top layer) and dermis (second layer), and symptoms can include red, white, or splotchy skin along with pain and blisters. Third-degree burns reach the fat layer underneath and can appear as black, white, or brown areas. These burns can affect the nerves and cause numbness. If you get a second or third-degree burn, it’s best to see your primary medical provider for treatment.
Stay Hydrated to Avoid Heatstroke
One of the best ways to stay safe in hot weather is to drink lots of water. This is especially important if you are also drinking alcohol, which can cause dehydration.
Heatstroke and dehydration can be extremely dangerous. Heat can sneak up on people, especially those who exercise outdoors and those who are medically fragile, including the very young and the very old because they do not sweat as easily and can therefore struggle to regulate their body temperature.
Athletes, especially those playing team sports who do not want to let teammates down, sometimes ignore warning signs. Symptoms of overheating include feeling too hot, red or flushed skin, altered or confused mental states, irritation, slurred speech, headaches, trouble breathing, accelerated heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and fainting. Any of these can indicate a problem, and if things go too far, heat stroke can cause brain damage. When exercising in the heat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes or about a quart of water per hour.
Older adults are also vulnerable, even if they are simply sitting in a house without air conditioning during summer. If you have a family member or neighbor who may be at risk, check in with them. Usually, communities offer cooling stations where folks can sit in an air conditioned space and get access to water.
In addition to drinking enough water, people can cool their core body temperature with ice packs placed on the chest, back, and back of neck. Getting in an ice bath also works, if that is available.
If kids want to run around outside, that’s great–just keep them cool and hydrated. Kids (and adults) can relax in kiddie pools. Kids can also run through sprinklers or soak each other with water toys. If those options don’t work, municipal swimming pools offer a great way to cool down.
When it’s hot, people often head for the nearest body of water. Staying safe around rivers, lakes, and oceans means paying attention to tides and currents and wearing life vests during boating.
Rivers can have deceptively strong currents, and oceans have sneaker waves and rip tides, which is why they say never turn your back on the ocean. Young children playing around deep water should wear life vests, and anyone who doesn’t know how to swim (or swim well) should be accompanied by someone who can support them. If you have a swimming pool, erect a barrier to prevent small children from wandering over and falling in.
Even strong swimmers should be careful around deep water. When people drink alcohol or when their mental states are altered by heatstroke, they can lose the ability to think clearly.
I wish you all a happy, healthy, and safe rest of your summer.
Brooke Simpson, is a family nurse practitioner at MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental, and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.