Summer Safety Beyond Sunscreen: 3 Heat-Related Illnesses to Know About
Keeping yourself safe in the summer doesn’t just mean slathering on the sunscreen (although that’s important—especially if you’re spending a day on the boat, at the beach or working in the yard!). On top of sunburn, there is a full spectrum of health issues that can result from exposure to intense sunlight or heat. While these conditions vary in risk and severity, they can all be prevented with the right preparation. To help you stay safe, here are some must-know facts about sun poisoning, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Sun poisoning isn’t actually poisoning – it is a severe form of sunburn that requires medical treatment to avoid complications like skin damage, infection and dehydration. Caused by extended exposure to the sun without proper protection, sun poisoning has symptoms like skin redness, blistering, rash-like inflammation, tingling pain, headache, fever/chills, nausea, dizziness and dehydration.
If you suspect that your sunburn is actually sun poisoning, be sure to seek treatment. A medical professional will be able to determine the best course of action, whether it be IV fluids for dehydration, topical or oral steroids to support healing and pain relief or antibiotics to prevent infections.
Heat exhaustion occurs when your body’s internal temperature increases, making it tough to regulate its temperature. Typically, heat exhaustion is caused by exposure to high temperatures—usually paired with high humidity—and strenuous physical activity. Symptoms include clammy skin, heavy sweating, a weak but rapid pulse, dizziness, sudden drop in blood pressure and nausea.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, stop all activity, move to a cooler place and hydrate with water or a sports drink. If your condition doesn’t improve within 15 minutes of taking these steps, seek medical attention so that the condition doesn’t escalate to heat stroke.
Like heat exhaustion, heat stroke is a result of prolonged exposure to intensely high temperatures or strenuous physical activity outside in the summer. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s core reaches or exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit, causing its cooling systems to fail and creating a harmful environment for internal organs. Symptoms to be on alert for include high body temperature, extremes in perspiration (heavy sweating or no sweating at all), confusion or severe headache, dizziness, vomiting, elevated heart rate and trouble breathing.
Because of the severity of symptoms and high risk for complications, those experiencing heat stroke require immediate emergency medical attention. The situation could be life-threatening, so before administering first aid, call 9-1-1. While waiting for help to arrive, move the person to a cooler environment and remove any unnecessary clothing. Continue trying to lower the person’s body temperature by fanning them while misting with water or cooling with wet towels.
To avoid any of these heat-related conditions, your best bet is prevention. Be conscious of weather forecasts and avoid being active or outside for prolonged periods of time during heat advisories or days with especially high temperatures and humidity. Drink extra fluids (avoiding those with caffeine or alcohol) to stay hydrated and protect your skin with sunscreen, hats and lightweight clothing.
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