PORTMOUTH — This summer could be one of the most anticipated in recent years.
COVID-19 is still with us, but we are learning to live with it as we move from the pandemic phase to an endemic state of mind.
We’ve all longed for fun in the sun, but there are steps to take to ensure it’s fun while still being safe.
dr Christopher Couture is an Orthopedic Specialist with Seacoast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital. He works a lot with athletes, but said many of the same safety tips can apply to everyone.
“People get into trouble when they underestimate the power of the sun and the heat,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to be extra careful, it’s a lot better than not caring enough.”
Drink water (and what to do if you drink alcohol)
Couture said water for hydration is one of the greatest needs of people who are going to be outdoors.
“Drink water every 15 to 30 minutes,” he said. “If possible, plan outdoor activities early in the day or later when the sun isn’t as strong. Watch your stamina as it may not be the same as in cooler weather. The sun drains your physical energy.”
dr Blake Sonne, an emergency medicine specialist at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, said alcohol and caffeinated substances are not good choices in the Sonne.
“Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics,” he said, “which can contribute to dehydration and put you at higher risk.” When you sweat, you lose salt and that needs to be replaced. Sports drinks with electrolytes can help maintain balance.”
Couture said to watch out for symptoms that could mean you’re overheating.
“If you’re feeling down, take a break,” he said.
“If you are sweating profusely or especially when the sweating stops; If you’re feeling light-headed or disoriented, take a break,” Couture said. “Get out of the sun. Cool down and drink water. Wear loose-fitting clothing. Choose fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin.”
“Water should be the choice for hydration, not soda or alcohol,” said Kendra Cline, advanced practice nurse at Somersworth Primary Care and Frisbie Memorial Hospital. “If you drink, make sure you have 8 ounces of water between drinks. Use an umbrella on the beach so you have a place to escape the sun. Take frequent breaks from the sun, ideally no more than an hour or two in direct sun at a time.”
It’s unlikely to be drinking too much water, said Bacall Quintal, a nurse at Core Primary Care in Stratham.
“The kidneys can excrete 20 to 28 liters of water in a day,” she said. “It’s really hard to be overhydrated so it’s not worth worrying about.”
Sonne said if you’re doing physically demanding activities like mowing a lawn, remember to take breaks.
“Get back up with liquids,” he said. “Try to do this early or later in the day when the sun isn’t as strong. This is especially important for people who work outdoors all day. You must be very careful.”
Sunscreen important, even when it’s cloudy
Using sunscreen to block harmful UV rays is vital to avoiding sunburn and later avoiding skin cancers like melanoma.
“Using 30 SPF is fine,” Cline said. “Reapply frequently as it will wash off or wash away. You can’t put on too much sunscreen, but you can use too little.”
Quintal recommends applying sunscreen 30 minutes before going out in the sun and reapplying every 90 minutes to two hours, more often if you’re spending time in the water.
“There’s SPF-certified clothing,” Quintal said. “A lot of these actually help keep you cool and they’re super comfortable. Hats help a lot and they can also be rated SPF.”
Melanoma is the most common type of cancer caused by too much sun exposure.
“Sun protection is important for everyone, especially children,” says Sonne. “Make sure you include exposed scalp, ears and hands. Also use it on products that claim to be waterproof. This includes cloudy days as clouds can actually amplify the sun’s rays. The long- and short-term benefits are manifold. We think we need that tan to look better, but in 30 to 40 years it will come at a price.”
For those who don’t have air conditioning in the extreme heat, Quintal says this is a good time to visit the mall or library, or go out to dinner to cool off.
“Take a shower, use a fan to cool down,” she said.
Heat Fatigue or Heat Stroke?
Knowing the difference between heat exhaustion and heat exhaustion can save your life. The latter is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
“Heat stroke affects the central nervous system,” Couture said. “People get confused and it can lead to organ damage and muscle breakdown. People can stop sweating and the temperature is usually 104 or more. It’s an emergency, so call 911.”
Sonne said the main difference, and what makes heat stroke a life-threatening condition, is that it affects the central nervous system and the brain is involved.
“Some people are more at risk,” Sonne said. “People who are obese, who tend to be less physically active, or who are less adaptable to change may have a harder time. People taking certain medications, such as blood pressure medication, should avoid excessive sun exposure.”
Heat exhaustion is less pronounced. Getting out of the sun, hydrating, and helping the body cool down is usually enough to reverse the condition.
Sonne said people could watch out for symptoms telling them to rest.
“If you get dizzy, nauseous, have muscle cramps, headaches or vomiting, get out of the sun,” Sonne said. “Drink water and stay out of the sun until symptoms subside. If you have any concerns, do not hesitate to call for help to be properly assessed.”
“It’s a good idea to check on your elderly neighbors when it’s really hot outside,” Quintal said. “Elderly people and babies are most vulnerable to extreme heat.”
Safety tips for the summer
Portsmouth Regional Hospital’s Injury Prevention Program offers the following tips for a safe summer.
- Water Safety: No matter where you swim—pool, lake, or ocean—water safety is important for all ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1 to 14, behind traffic accidents. Adults need to be careful too, especially when alcohol is involved. A slip and fall into a pool while intoxicated can be devastating. And when you’re on one of our beaches, keep an eye out for changes in flag color to represent currents or other hazardous conditions. Lifeguards are on duty on New Hampshire State Park beaches during the summer (hours vary by location), but it’s up to you to pay attention. If the flag is red, stay out of the water.
- Do not leave children unattended near water. It only takes 60 seconds to drown. According to the CDC, there are 3,960 fatal accidental drownings each year, an average of 11 drowning deaths per day.
- Sunscreen: Apply, reapply, and reapply. Tans may look healthy, and summers are so short in New England that we want to get as much sun as possible, but sun damage can not only cause premature aging, it can also cause skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be nearly 100,000 new cases of melanoma this year. Don’t just wear sunscreen at the beach, but whenever you’re outside mowing the lawn, planting flowers, playing tennis, baseball, or cornhole. When you are outside, protect your skin. It’s the only skin you have.
- Heat Stroke and Heat Stroke: Heat stroke and heat stroke are different things but are often thought of as synonymous. According to the CDC, heat stroke is the most serious and occurs when the body is no longer able to control its temperature. As body temperature rises rapidly, the sweat mechanism fails and our body cannot cool down. Heatstroke can result in death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not received. Symptoms of heat stroke include: confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech; loss of consciousness (coma); hot, dry skin or profuse sweating; seizures; very high body temperature.
- Heat exhaustion, according to the CDC, is the body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. The elderly, people with high blood pressure and people who work in a hot environment are most at risk. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include: headache; nausea; Dizziness; weakness; Irritability; Thirst; heavy sweating; increased body temperature; decreased urine output.
- Safety in the Fire Pit Toasting marshmallows for s’mores and sitting around the campfire with your friends and family is one of summer’s greatest joys. But keep children and intoxicated persons away from the fire, and no one should sit too close to a fire. Be sure to completely extinguish your campfire before leaving the area.
- Firework Safety: Did you know that sparklers can reach temperatures of 1,800 to 3,000 degrees? Do not let small children play with it and keep both children and adults away from fireworks. Sit back, relax and leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals.
- Watch out for your neighbors: It’s also important to remember to check on our elderly family members and neighbors during the warmer months, especially when temperatures are really rising. Older people may not be aware of their rising body temperature, which puts them at risk of heat stroke, which can be fatal. Some signs to look out for in older adults include headaches, confusion, muscle spasms, dry mouth, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and infrequent urination.