Beating the Heat
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/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Beating the Heat

Here in the northeast, we love the sun (when it comes out, that is!).  Although sunbathing and spending time outdoors in the warm temperatures can feel great, there is a common tendency to overdo it. If you have ever lost track of time and gotten a little too much sun or felt dizzy when getting up from your beach chair, you have experienced this.  Below are a few quick reminders for enjoying summer without the most common health-related pitfalls.

Pass the water. Dehydration is quite common during the summer months, especially among the elderly and athletes. It happens when we don’t have enough fluid in our bodies to perform basic functions. While dehydration can occur year round, it is more common when the weather is hot and we are sweating.  When we sweat, we lose quite a lot of fluid, mainly compromised of salt and water.

To prevent this, it is important to hydrate well with plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. (Water is best, but lemonade or ice tea—which can contain quite a lot of sugar—can work too.) If you begin to experience symptoms of dehydration such as unusual fatigue, muscle cramping, and dizziness that does not improve after stepping inside, resting, and drinking plenty of fluids, you should be seen in the Emergency Department, where you may need to receive fluids intravenously.

Pass the sunscreen. If you have ever spent a little bit too much time in the sun, you know that sunburns are quite uncomfortable immediately after they happen.  Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays or artificial sources (tanning beds) accelerates skin aging and can place you at risk for certain cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma which is one of the most serious types of cancers.  To avoid short-term pain and long-term consequences, fully cover exposed skin with a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater every 2 hours you spend in the sun. Even if you’re using sunscreen, wear protective clothing and stay out of the sun at midday to limit the sun’s harmful effects on your skin.

If you get a sunburn, treat it as soon as you notice by getting out of the sun, cooling the skin with a damp towel or moisturizer with aloe vera, and drinking plenty of water. If you feel dizzy, weak, nauseated, chilled, or other symptoms, it could be a more serious effect of the sunburn and you should see a medical provider right away.

Pass the water again. If you’re following the recommendations listed above, you are more likely to avoid the most serious of summer’s illnesses: heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize the symptoms and know what to do if they occur.

Muscle cramps, heavy sweating, nausea, headache, or lightheadedness may all indicate a heat illness. Most heat illnesses can be treated with fluids and by resting in a cooler place. If symptoms persist or get worse, or someone you are with seems confused or loses consciousness, dial 9-1-1 and get immediate medical help. 

Now that you’re prepared, grab that full, large water bottle; SPF of 30 or greater sunscreen; protective hat and clothing; and get out there—mostly in the morning and later in the afternoon—for a fun, relaxing time.

Paige Fillio, PA, is a physician assistant at SVMC ExpressCare and Respiratory Evaluation Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington. 

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