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Summer and Sun Safety

During the summer season, outdoor activities are in full swing and that means we’re all soaking up a lot more sun and hot weather, exposing ourselves to heat-related illnesses.

Reviewed by Kristin Vinueza, MSN, RN, FNP-C
Written by Rocky Epstein

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Protect your Skin

While the sun may feel great it’s important to remember too much exposure can be potentially harmful even on cloudy days and in the winter. The sun emits ultraviolet or UV radiation that can cause painful sunburn and premature skin aging and also increases the risk of developing skin cancer. In fact, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer found in the United States with one out of every five people developing skin cancer during their lifetime.

In order to limit your exposure to these harmful UV rays here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Find shade, or bring your own.
  • Wear light clothing such as long sleeve shirts, brimmed hats, and sunglasses to cover exposed areas of skin.
  • Use a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.
    • When applying sunscreen be sure to check the expiration date.
    • Fully cover your exposed skin and reapply every 40 to 80 minutes and/or immediately after swimming or sweating.
    • For children under six months of age, the use of sunscreen is not recommended due to the sensitivity of their skin instead use clothing and shade for their protection.

For any other questions regarding skin cancer prevention and detection talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist.

Mind the Heat and Humidity

Monitoring humidity is as important as high temperatures when planning outdoor activities or work. Yes, humidity can mean the difference in how quickly someone can recover from heat exposure. When the relative humidity is 75% or higher, you cannot count on sweating to cool your body. High humid conditions and heat of close to 100 degrees make it very difficult to cool yourself.

If you find yourself (or someone around you) affected by the heat, get indoors into air conditioning or into an area with circulating air to begin the cool-down process. In less humid conditions, it may be easier to cool down with cool compresses, water, or by going to rest in a cool, shady location. Limit work or play during the hottest part of the day, typically from 10 am to 4 pm. Instead, plan activities in the morning or late afternoon.

For those whose work keeps them outside, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have created an app to keep workers safe during the summer. The app OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool is a useful resource for planning outdoor work activities based on the heat index which is a combination of heat and humidity. The app features a real-time heat index and hourly location-based forecasts, as well as occupational safety and health recommendations from OSHA and NIOSH.

Stay Hydrated

Take frequent water breaks. Drink 8 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes. According to the CDC, drinking more than 48 ounces of water, or other liquids, in an hour can cause a medical emergency because the concentration of salt in the blood becomes too low.

You may be curious about whether sports drinks are helpful when trying to stay hydrated. When you eat regular meals with water, typically, this should be sufficient to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance. However, if you participate in an activity where you sweat for a prolonged period, a sports drink with balanced electrolytes can help replace the salt loss. Make sure to limit your intake as these drinks may add considerable calories due to excessive sugar.

When trying to stay hydrated, avoid the following:

  • Energy drinks with high caffeine content
  • Alcohol
  • Salt tablets, it’s better to eat regular meals/snacks throughout the day to maintain balance

Individuals who are Pregnant or have Chronic Conditions

For individuals with chronic conditions and pregnant persons, extreme heat can be particularly dangerous. Some medical conditions such as migraine, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disease, heart disease, rosacea, and lung conditions can become worse due to the hot weather.

If you are pregnant, your body must work harder to cool down both your body and your unborn baby. You are also more likely to become dehydrated, which means you won’t be able to cool yourself down as well

Take these steps to prevent heat stress:

  • Drink plenty of water, before, during, and after your activity
  • Limit your time outside
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Apply and re-apply sunscreen
  • Take breaks in the shade or an air-conditioned area

Plan your Activities

For the elderly, individuals with large body mass, and children extra precautions to stay hydrated and cool during the heat of the day should be exercised. Elderly individuals are most vulnerable since they don’t have the same capacity as adults to cool their bodies as quickly. Kids also have a reduced ability to dissipate heat, and they often forget to hydrate while playing. Check on children who play outside every 20-30 minutes and make sure they hydrate with water and, of course, don’t forget the sunscreen and protective clothing.

Regardless of what your plans are this summer remember these tips to help keep you safe while you enjoy the great outdoors.

Resources:

  • The CDC created a handy list of what symptoms to look for in a person experiencing heat-related illness and what you can do to assist them. Download it here.
  • OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool: Is an app for outdoor workers which measures the heat index locally.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.