Summer is here. That means long days at the beach, hikes in the mountains, family get-togethers, outdoor parties and plenty of fun and sun. Unfortunately, summertime can also mean sunburn, dehydration, and heatstroke if you are not careful. But with a little forethought and planning before you head outdoors, you can avoid some of these common mishaps and make the most of your summer.
In hot weather, our bodies work extra hard to stay cool. Sweating is the body's way of cooling the skin. However, in humid weather, as is common in Hawaii, the surrounding air is already too saturated to evaporate your sweat efficiently. The heart must compensate by pumping harder and getting blood to the skin to release heat. This explains why you can feel tired and wiped out after a day at the beach.
One big danger from being out in the heat is the body's loss of electrolytes. Electrolytes are electrically charged ions that keep your nervous system working and your muscles contracting properly, including your heart. The primary electrolytes we are concerned with are sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium. Sweat contains mostly sodium and water. Sodium holds water in the cells and stabilizes blood pressure.
As the sodium levels drop in the body, you begin to feel thirsty. Unfortunately, most people then try to re-hydrate by drinking plain water. This actually makes the situation worse as it dilutes the sodium level even more. Proper amounts of fluid in the body are necessary to maintain a cool body temperature, adequate blood pressure, and normal kidney and brain function.
The first and most common symptom of dehydration is called heat cramps. This generally occurs in people who have been exercising in heat and humidity. Due to electrolyte depletion, the person's muscles begin to contract in slow and painful spasms. Someone experiencing heat cramps should cool down, rest, and hydrate with an electrolyte drink.
A more serious case of dehydration is heat stroke, also known as heat exhaustion or heat collapse. This occurs to people who have lost an immense amount of fluid and electrolytes through sweat. Symptoms include excessive thirst, nausea, headache, fatigue, dizziness, numbness and tingling in extremities, dry eyes, nose and mouth and confusion. Heat stroke can lead to loss of consciousness and even death. The victim should lie flat on a cool place and ingest electrolyte fluids, intravenously in some cases.
Now that you know the dangers of heat stroke, it is important to find out how to prevent it. First of all, know how to properly hydrate. Plain water will not sufficiently hydrate the body after sweating in the hot sun. Electrolyte drinks like Recharge are better for bringing mineral levels back to normal, but it is also a good idea to add more salt to them; about ½ to 1 tsp. of salt per one liter of fluid. If you have a family or personal history of high blood pressure, consult your doctor for the best hydration techniques.
- Always have a water bottle with you and drink plenty of fluids.
- Drink before you feel thirsty because by the time thirst kicks in, your body has already lost too much water and salt.
- Incorporate your exercise program into the morning hours before the sun is at its peak.
- Ease into the hot weather. Gradually increase your exercise program each day so your body can get used to the heat. It takes about two to four weeks for your body to get acclimated.
- Persons over the age of 65, those on heart or blood medication, and overweight people are most susceptible to heat stroke. If you fit into any of these categories, be especially aware of how hard you work your body. Take it easy in the summer heat and discuss new exercise programs with your doctor before undertaking them.
- If you find you are exhibiting symptoms of overheating and dehydration, get to a cool or air-conditioned environment immediately, take a cool bath, or dip in the ocean or lake.
Another common danger of the sun is, of course, sunburn. Sunburn causes your skin to itch and peel, increases the appearance of aging, and can lead to skin cancer. Sunburn also inhibits your skins ability to sweat, thus increasing the risk of heat stroke. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is the fastest growing form of cancer in the United States . Fortunately it is also very preventable. Remember these tips when venturing outside for the day:
- Wear sunscreen! Make sure it has a minimum SPF of 15, preferably with a quality blocker like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Reapply every 2 hours and every time you come out of the water.
- Wear sun protective clothing like a wide-brimmed hat, lightweight long sleeve shirt and pants. You might want to check out clothing that is specifically designed with an SPF to guard against the suns rays.
- Wear sunglasses that give 100 percent UV protection. Anything less than 100 percent can actually damage your eyes more than wearing nothing at all.
Be especially conscientious of protecting children from the sun! Their fair skin can be easily damaged and sunburn increases their chances of skin cancer later in life.