It’s a Jungle Out There!
Some tips for a safe and healthful summer outdoors
by Kirsten Falcone, RN
Hilbert College Wellness Center
Summer break is almost here, and many will be spending more time in the sun and outside. It’s time to brush up on your summer weather etiquette. Here are a few items to remember before you head out the door.
Hydration. Remember to keep water available at all times. Without proper hydration, you will be more prone to heat exhaustion, or even heatstroke (a life-threatening condition). There is also a milder version called heat cramps. You want to avoid all of these by keeping hydrated so your body can sweat and cool itself. Also, avoid alcohol, wear lightweight clothing, and stay in the shade. People who are more at risk are the young and the old (younger than four and older than 65), people on certain medications (such as diuretics, beta blockers, antihistamines, and more), obese people (those whose BMI is greater than 30), and people who spend most of their time in the air conditioning.
A good rule of thumb for how much water to drink is always drink 64 to 96 ounces (or more) per day. Another calculation is one based on your weight: Take your weight number in pounds and drink 50 to 100 percent of that number in ounces. For example, someone who weighs 160 lbs. should drink 80 to 160 ounces of water every day. However, if you are in the heat, you will need to drink more!
Some signs of dehydration you might notice right away are headaches, muscle cramps, dry mouth, bad breath, fever, drowsiness, low blood pressure, high pulse, listlessness, sore throat and dark urine. Remember, if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated!
Sunscreen. There has been some controversy regarding sunscreen lately. Does it cause cancer? Does it block vitamin D production? Is it better to go without? The current consensus among healthcare professionals and the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) is that using sunscreen is better than not using it. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Website, using sunscreen has more benefits than detriments, since vitamin D can be obtained from food, and using sunscreen lowers the risk of cancerous and precancerous lesions. The FDA states on its Website, “…the risk of not using sunscreen is much greater than any potential risk posed by sunscreen ingredients.”
What are some tips for using sunscreen, then? Some sunscreen blocks out only UVB rays (which cause cancer), but not UVA rays (which age your skin), so make certain you pick a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that is at least SPF 15. (SPF 30 or higher is better.) It is best to follow the instructions on the label, as far as application and amount. Some suggestions are to use at least a “shot glass” (1.5 fluid ounces) of lotion at a time, not rubbing it in completely, and applying it 15 minutes before sun time. Reapply it every two hours, or sooner if it has washed or rubbed off due to swimming or sweating. Other suggestions are to apply sunscreen after you have been in the sun for a few minutes, thereby allowing your body its daily vitamin D allotment.
Another kind of “sunscreen” is clothing. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, along with long sleeves, will help reduce your exposure.
Keep in mind this thought: Tanned skin = damaged skin. It’s that simple. UV damaged skin cannot be completely reversed, no matter what the beauty industry tells you.
Eye protection. As important as sunscreen and hydration, is protecting your eyes. Make certain you wear sunglasses, even if it is cloudy out. When shopping for sunglasses, look for 99 to 100 percent UVA/UVB protection, large lenses, and wraparound protection. A wide-brimmed hat is beneficial, also. Protecting your eyes from the sun will help you avoid macular degeneration, cataracts, eyelid cancer, and other eye problems, as you age.
Sun time. The best time to stay out of the sun is during its most intense time, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but you can be burned at other times, too, depending upon the length of time exposed and if there is something reflective nearby, like a large body of water.
Drug interactions. Some drugs can increase “photosensitivity,” otherwise known as sensitivity to the sun. Some common drugs that do this include benzoyl peroxide, Benadryl, birth control pills, diuretics, naproxen (Aleve), tricyclic antidepressants, many antibiotics, St. John’s wort, and more. Some other substances that increase photosensitivity can be found in perfumes, skin-care products, and even some foods (such as citrus and artificial sweeteners. Products that remove the top layer of dead skin cells, such as chemical peels and exfoliating scrubs are also a no-no for pre-sun exposure. A list of common culprits can be found at http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/beware-of-sunburn-boosters#1.
Insects. Ticks and mosquitoes are considered “vectors” for some diseases, because you can contract Lyme disease from blacklegged or deer ticks. The Zika virus, formerly reported in two states (Florida and Texas), might still be a threat if you travel internationally. Do your research to avoid exposure to Zika, or other vector-spread illnesses in the region to which you are traveling.
As far as avoiding tick bites, just remember to wear long pants when you are in the woods, and try to tuck your pant legs into your socks. Have someone check you for ticks at the end of the day, just to be safe. If you find a bull’s eye rash anywhere, go see your doctor to evaluate for Lyme disease.
Bee stings are also a threat, especially to someone who is allergic. It is a good idea not to go barefoot where clover or other flowers are growing. Make certain to check underneath picnic benches before you sit down. Any place you visit can be a potential place for a bee nest, so look before you leap. Don’t forget to take along allergy medication, if indicated. Concerning the declining population of honey bees, remember that most bees are beneficial. So, don’t get out that can of Raid unless the bees are a threat to human safety.
Lastly, it is a good idea to wear bug spray when in the woods, or wherever mosquitoes live. According to Consumer Reports’ Website, the most effective repellents were Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour, and Off! Deepwoods VIII. Make certain to read all labels before use, to verify you are applying the repellent properly. Always wash it off at the end of the day with soap and water.
Another option that many may want to try is a “bug jacket.” These are simply mesh jackets with veils, which keep the bugs away, but offer ventilation for the heat. Many such jackets can be ordered online from Amazon (see link below) or many other retailers.
Summer Sports. Various summer sports require special gear. If you are out on the water, remember to wear your life vest. Did you know a concussion is a brain injury? Bicycling, dirt biking, motorcycling, horseback riding, skateboarding, and many other sports require helmets. Do not take a chance with yours or someone else’s safety. Make certain you wear all the recommended protective gear for your sport. If you are heading out on a hike, do not go alone. Always have a first aid kit in your backpack, along with other supplies, should you somehow end up stranded. Also, be aware of the forecast, and do not plan to be outside during dangerous weather conditions, like lightning storms. Some days are just better for staying inside.
Be prepared for the worst, and you may end up with the best! With these reminders in hand, have a safe and enjoyable summer!
For further information on outdoor summer safety, try these Internet resources:
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Sun safety tips for men:
WebMD.com, Sun myths and facts quiz:
WebMD.com, How to protect your eyes from the sun, video (appears after advertisement):
Skin Cancer Foundation, Does sunscreen cause cancer?
WebMD.com, What’s the best sunscreen?:
EWG.org, Skin Cancer on the Rise:
FDA, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, OTC sunscreen requirements:
MayoClinic.org, Heat exhaustion
ConsumerReports.org, Zika mosquito repellent recommendations:
Mayo Clinic, First aid for tick bites: