As the weather heats up, everyone is daydreaming about summer fun. Children are counting down the days until summer. Adults are planning trips to the pool, beach and campsites. All of these activities can be a recipe for fun. They can also be a recipe for disaster.
There are as many potential hazards as there are opportunities to create happy memories. But most of the unpleasantness can be avoided. Sunburns, dehydration/heat stroke and water-related accidents do not have to mar your summer. Here are a few tips that can keep the summer from being a bummer or worse, a tragedy.
The sun’s UV radiation causes sunburns, not the heat. A sunburn can destroy the skin at different levels. Skin controls the amount of heat the body retains or releases. It also holds in fluids and protects the body from infection. Sunburns typically don't develop for between two to six hours after you have been exposed. Symptoms usually include pain, red skin, sometimes fever, or even blisters.
Sunburns commonly occur on the face, neck and arms, areas where sun exposure is greatest. Wearing a hat with a wide brim is even more effective than sunscreen in shielding the sensitive skin on the face and scalp from damaging UV radiation. The sun’s rays are extremely intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Use a watch to keep track of how long you've been in the sun and avoid spending more than a couple of hours in direct exposure.
If you are planning on being out in the sun for the day, bring along an umbrella or some kind of physical shelter. A light, airy long-sleeved shirt can protect you from harm when spending an extended period of time in the sun.
Skin types often determine a person’s likelihood of getting sunburned. For example, Sally, a fair-skinned girl, is more likely to get sunburned and/or develop skin cancer. Marta, a girl with tanned skin, has less risk of getting a sunburn or skin cancer. However, regardless of skin type everyone is at risk, and this risk only increases without continual protection.
“The simplest thing to do to prevent a sunburn is to wear appropriate clothing (including a hat) and use sunscreen minimum 15 SPF,” said Cheryl Maes, a nurse practitioner in Las Vegas.
There are many different types of sunscreen available, including waterproof formulas and hypoallergenic creams for those with sensitive skin. Be sure to choose a sunscreen that suits the activity in which you are participating. Be sure to reapply as often as necessary.
Dehydration & Heat Stroke
Dehydration is very common during the summer. People enjoying outdoor activities such as walking, golfing, bicycling, and swimming often forget to drink the proper amount of water to keep them hydrated. Some symptoms of dehydration include headaches, thirst, decreased urine volume, insomnia, unexplained tiredness, irritability, lack of tears when crying, headache, dry mouth, decreased blood pressure, and dizziness or fainting when standing up. Untreated dehydration generally results in delirium, unconsciousness and swelling of the tongue. The final stage of dehydration is heat stroke, which is a serious emergency that can lead to death.
Some indicators of heat stroke include thirst, dry mouth, dark urine, or even vomiting and diarrhea. But you shouldn’t rely on the symptoms as a warning. Sometimes heat stroke can go unnoticed until it is too late.
Preventing dehydration and heat stroke is simple: Drink water! The average person should consume 8-10 glasses of water a day. Water or sports drinks are the best and most effective. Caffeinated drinks, such as soft drinks and teas or alcoholic beverages, such as beer, can actually worsen the effects.
For people with lower tolerances to the heat such as children or seniors, the best practice is to limit the length of time spent outside. Scheduling outside activities early in the morning or later in the evening is always safer.
When activities cannot be limited to these specific times, carry plenty of water with you. Local supermarkets and convenience stores carry affordable and reusable water bottles. Carry water at all times in order to combat dehydration. This is your first line of defense. As a general rule, keep a gallon of water in the trunk of your car for emergencies.
Spending too much time outside isn’t the only summer danger. Another tragic but preventable hazard is leaving children in hot cars. Children may become dehydrated or suffer from heat stroke at a much quicker rate than adults, and this can easily become fatal.
Just five months into 2012 there have already been two juvenile vehicle hyperthermia fatalities. In 2011 there were 33 deaths and since 1998 there have been at least 529 of these needless tragedies. In most cases, children are either forgotten, playing in vehicles unattended, or intentionally left in vehicles by an adult. Children ranging in age from 5 days to 14 years have died from vehicular hyperthermia in the United States (1998-2011). Over half of the deaths are children under two years of age. Also, take roll of any children, ensuring that they are all safe and accounted for.
“People simply do not realize the danger of leaving a child unattended in a car in high temperatures. They become comfortable in their daily routines and allow their better judgment to be compromised and adopt the ‘it will never happen to me’ attitude. It is difficult for me, as a parent and police officer, to comprehend how anyone can forget a child in a car. But, I would advise any guardian of a child to educate oneself on the law. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Make children’s safety the number one priority at all times. Check and re-check to ensure all children are out of harm’s way,” said Chris Reahm, a police officer in Las Vegas. He said the main reason children have been left in cars is complacency.
“People think they will be in and out quickly. They don’t realize that ten minutes’ exposure to high heat intensity can kill a child. Sometimes the person in charge of a child is under the influence of a substance that can alter his or her decision-making ability,” he added.
Drowning is sometimes called the “silent death” because there is often no cry for help and very little sound from splashing. Drowning is the leading cause of death in young children, with most of these deaths occurring in the family pool. These tragedies usually occur while parents are home and there is a lapse in supervision.
Some parents forget that children can drown in less than a few inches of liquid. Caution and safety are a must around water of any kind. For added safety, always bring life vests for anyone who cannot swim when visiting swimming pools, lakes, rivers, and even streams.
Never allow children to swim unsupervised. Always watch them around water inside the home, around the pool, yard, and other water areas. Look for possible water hazards and be sure to have rescue equipment handy.
Enjoy safe swimming practices by taking lessons at local YMCAs and community centers. Lessons are often available for all ages. Instructors are trained to cater to various needs, from those who have an extreme fear of water to those considered water babies who are very comfortable in the water.
A useful rule of thumb to avoid dehydration in hot weather or during strenuous activities is to drink plenty of water and sports drinks. Also, remember that a little sunscreen goes a long way in protecting your skin. Practice safety around water, and always monitor children carefully. The same can be said when traveling with children in the car. An easy way to ensure that everyone is present and accounted is to have a simple count off when everyone gets out of the car. Make it a game. Your children will enjoy it and make the summer more fun and memorable.