With the summer heat sizzling all across the Bay Area and swimming, concerts, and other outdoor events in full swing, it is important to remember ways for you and your family to stay safe in the sun.
One of the best ways to keep cool and prevent a heat-related illness, like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, is to keep hydrated.
"Most people don't realize how much fluid they lose on hot days, particularly when the temperature rises above 100ºF. Dehydration is a huge risk factor for serious heat-related illnesses,” stresses David Birdsall, MD, emergency room physician at John Muir Health.
“A good rule of thumb is that if you can't remember the last time you urinated, then you need to drink more fluid. You want your urine to be pale yellow to clear in color. Dark urine means your kidneys are working overtime to absorb fluid because you are dehydrated," says Dr. Birdsall.
Be sure to avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks as well; they act as a diuretic and will dehydrate you further.
Body temperature above 103°F, dizziness, confusion, throbbing headache, rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, nausea, and red-hot skin without sweating are warning signs of a heat stroke.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It is life threatening and occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include lightheadedness, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, dizziness, fainting, and nausea. Without treatment, heat exhaustion may lead to heat stroke.
If you or a friend experience symptoms of a heat-related illness, find some shade or move indoors.
"Tepid water applied to the skin may also help rapid cooling; just avoid ice-cold water, as this can potentially make matters worse," notes Dr. Birdsall. "Also, one should begin hydration techniques. Sport drinks are good, but equally effective is water along with a salty food."
Should more serious symptoms develop, such as ataxia (walking like intoxicated), vomiting, diarrhea, or confusion, then you should go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. These symptoms represent a dangerous progression of a heat-related condition.
Who is at risk
In general, young children, the elderly, and those who are obese are at the greatest risk for heat-related illnesses. Certain medications such as diuretics, laxatives, blood pressure pills, and antihistamines can put one at a greater risk. Therefore, these individuals should take greater precautions.
When it comes to keeping the suns' rays at bay, experts suggest avoiding the sun altogether when the rays are strongest, from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Another effective method of protection, according to Curtis A. Raskin, MD, a dermatologist on staff at John Muir Health, is to wear protective clothing. "Hats, sunscreen and staying in the shade will help reduce your exposure to the sun," he says.
The American Cancer Society also recommends the following:
- Seek shade: If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun's rays are at their strongest.
- Slip on a shirt: Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you cannot see through when held up to a light.
- Some companies now make sun protective clothing that list their ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) value. The UPF tells you the level of protection from the sun’s rays; the higher the UPF, the more protection.
- Slop on sunscreen: Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
- Apply a generous amount (about a palmful) about 30 minutes before going out, and re-apply every two hours or after swimming, toweling dry, or perspiring.
- Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days.
- Slap on a hat: Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears, and neck.
- Wear sunglasses: Long hours in the sun can increase your risk of eye disease. Glasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption will provide optimal protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin. Be sure to choose glasses that protect from both UVA and UVB radiation.
Sun and children
Children are particularly vulnerable to overexposure to the sun. Estimates show that humans receive about 80 percent of their exposure to the sun before age 18.
A bad sunburn in childhood, according to Dr. Raskin, can increase the chances of developing melanoma (skin cancer) later in life.
Keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun and protect them using hats and clothing.
Teach older children the importance of covering up while enjoying the outdoors. Make sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses just another routine before going outside.
Dr. Birdsall also points out that the inside of a car can easily reach 150ºF during the summer, so do not leave your child or pet unattended in any vehicle. And if you must exercise, do so in the early morning or late evening hours when temperatures are cooler.