Midsummer checkup: Risks of too much fun in the sun
Sunny summer days bring a variety of health risks
Fun in the sun can be cut short by common health problems like sunburn, heat exhaustion, dehydration and overindulgence in alcohol. Make sure you plan ahead to avoid summertime pitfalls to keep enjoying the long days.
It is summertime and being outside is where it is at! We love being in the sun. It tans us and provides our skin with the ability to synthesize Vitamin D. Pool parties, vacations, BBQs, time spent with family and friends – all make summer such a special time. There are, however, several distinct dangers from getting too much sun exposure – from minor ailments like dehydration, and sunburns to more serious health risks like elevated blood pressure and heat stroke. Be prepared this summer and avoid these dangerous conditions.
Dehydration is one of the most common risks that we encounter during the summertime. It comes from a combination of factors: time spent away from home, lack of preparation, limited bathroom facilities, increased physical activity and the simple fact that sometimes we do not realize how much fluid we are losing. Hydrating with at least 50% of your body weight, in ounces, is especially crucial during the summer months. So, if you weigh 150 lbs., you should drink at least 75 oz of hydrating fluids per day (water, fizzy water, lemonade, tea, etc.). Caffeinated sodas, energy drinks and coffee do not count. Then add 8 oz for every 30 minutes of outside activity you do. And remember that when it is very hot, our sweat evaporates quickly and we do not realize that we are losing fluids. It is a good idea to have some electrolyte mix on hand if you are out in the sun all day or playing sports/exercising outside.
Sunburns are another common risk of summer. We want that sunshine so badly we forget to re-apply sunscreen every few hours or after swimming or strenuous exercise. Planning ahead and bringing a shade tent or large umbrella will also allow you to take a break from the sun. The sun is strongest from 10 am to 2 pm so be particularly cautious during those hours. Sunburns range from mild redness (first-degree burns) to severe burning, peeling, blistering (up to a third-degree burn). Make sure you bring aloe vera along to apply at the end of the day if you are going to be outside multiple days in a row. Aloe helps the skin cool and stops the sunburn while traditional lotion can trap heat and worsen the discomfort of a sunburn.
Be particularly aware of your alcohol intake on these long, hot summer days. According to Mayo Clinic, alcohol consumption increases blood pressure. “Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily raises your blood pressure, but repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases.” I typically remind my patients that moderate drinking consists of less than 1 drink daily for women and less than 2 drinks daily for men. And if you plan to drink alcohol out in the sun, make sure you follow each drink with at least 8 oz of water. If you combine dehydration with alcohol consumption, you could create a serious blood pressure issue.
There are three types of heat injury, from mildest to most severe: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. These are potentially serious conditions that can arise from excessive sun exposure, high temperatures, strenuous exercise and dehydration. They are a spectrum, for example, if heat exhaustion is not treated, it can become heatstroke which is potentially life-threatening. According to Mayo Clinic, heatstroke comes from the body’s failure to regulate temperature and can result in elevated body temperature, organ damage and death. Symptoms include nausea, flushed skin, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, high body temperature and confusion.
All of these summertime maladies are preventable with forethought and common-sense preparations. Pack water and then pack extra fluids – like your favorite electrolyte mix or sports drink. Bring sunscreen as well as some type of shade under which you can hide from the mid-day sun. Moderate your drinking and be aware that physical activity will cause you to lose fluids more rapidly. Part of having a great summer is enjoying all the outdoor activities the sunny days afford us but it is just as crucial to keep yourself healthy so you can continue your fun.