Healthy Living: Sun Safety

May 09, 2012 - | 02:32 PM -


Sabra JacobsAs we are entering the summer months, it is important to be aware of the dangers of excessive sun exposure.  For many of us, with the warmer weather comes increased time spent outdoors engaging in lawn and gardening chores, picnics and recreation, swimming and tanning, boating and fishing, etc.  Accordingly, this month’s article will focus on heat-related terms and who is at greatest risk for suffering from heat-related illness, the stages of heat-related illness, and ways to prevent and treat heat-related illness.  I will also include a list of activities you can do to help stay in shape despite the summer heat.

Here are a list of heat-related terms specified by the American National Red Cross (2005) that you should familiarize yourself with to help keep you safe this summer:

·         Heat Wave : More than 48 hours of high heat (90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) and high humidity (80% relative humidity or higher) are expected

·         Heat Index :  A number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells how hot it really feels with the heat and humidity.  Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

·         Heat Cramps : Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion.  They usually involve the abdominal or leg muscles.  It is generally thought that the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating causes these cramps.

·         Heat Exhaustion :  Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke.  It typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating.  Fluid loss causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock.  With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate as it should, possibly because of high humidity or too many layers of clothing.  As a result, the body is not cooled properly.  Symptoms include cool, moist, pale, flushed, or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion.  Body temperature will be near normal.

·         Heat Stroke : Also known as sun stroke, is life-threatening.  The body’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working.  The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.  Symptoms include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing.  Body temperature can be very high—sometimes as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

·         Sunburn :  Occurs due to too much sun or ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure within 30 minutes of exposure.  Although always uncomfortable, sunburns and even sun poisoning are not often deadly.  However, did you know that having 1 or more blistering sunburns during childhood or adolescence doubles your chances of developing melanoma (skin cancer) later in life and that if a person has had 5 or more blistering sunburns at any time in their life, they will double their chances of multiple melanomas? (e-medicine Health, 2012).  Symptoms include pink, dry patches of skin, warm to the touch and blistered patches of skin.

Who’s at Greatest Risk for Heat-Related Illness?

·         Infants and children under the age of 4

·         Overweight people

·         Elderly

·         People who take antihistamines

·         People who drink alcohol

·         People who take certain medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression

·         Tanning bed users

·         Beach goers

·         People who have outdoor occupations like landscaping and construction

·         Light-skinned and fair-haired individuals

·         People with prior sun damage to their skin

Did you know that each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007), nearly 700 people die each year due to heat-related illnesses? 

Stages of Heat-Related Illness :

Sunburn à Heat Cramps à Heat Exhaustion à Heat Stroke

Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses :

·         Avoid strenuous activities in hot, humid environments

·         Wear light-weight, light-colored clothing

·         Drink water and eat small meals more often

·         Wear sunscreen with adequate UVA and UVB protection

(Always apply liberally 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and re-apply after swimming and heavy perspiration)

·         Wear a watch or other timepiece that will help you keep track of how much time you have spent in the sun

·         Wear a wide-brimmed hat to further shield your scalp and face

·         Stay indoors when possible

·         Take regular breaks in the shade if working outside

Treatment for Heat-Related Emergencies (The American National Red Cross, 2005)

·         Cool the Body

·         Give Fluids when Conscious

·         Minimize Shock

·         For Heat Cramps or Heat Exhaustion: get the person to a cooler place and give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes if the person is fully awake.  Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths such as towels or sheets.        Call 9-1-1 if the person refuses water, vomits, or loses consciousness.

·         For Heat Stroke:  help is needed fast so call 9-1-1 immediately.  Then, move the person to a cooler place and quickly cool the body.  Wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it.  If you have ice packs or cold packs, wrap them in a cloth and place them on each of the victim’s wrists and ankles, in their armpits and on their neck to cool their large blood vessels.  Watch for breathing problems and make sure that their airway is clear.  Keep the person lying down until help arrives.

Ways to Stay Active in Hot Weather

Even though we may be expecting record high temperatures this summer, it is still important for us to maintain an active routine to help keep us healthy year-round.  Just be sure to keep in mind the negative interaction between the outside temperature and the accompanying humidity index when you are planning your daily recreational activities.  Here are some lists of things you can do to help maintain your good health both indoors and outdoors this summer.

Indoors :

·         Go for walks in larger stores

·         Use light weights or stretch bands at home

·         Buy or rent an exercise DVD and use it inside in an air-conditioned room

·         Go dancing or take dance lessons

·         Do indoor housework like dusting, vacuuming, or washing the windows

·         On vacations, stay at hotels with fitness centers or swimming pools

·         Join a gym or health club

·         Join sports programs like basketball, volleyball, and soccer played inside

Outdoors (below 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit):

·         Take morning or evening walks

·         Go for a bike ride in shaded areas

·         Go swimming

·         Do light yard work or gardening

·         Wash your car and splash yourself to stay cool

·         Do not exercise as hard when it is hot and take frequent rest breaks

·         Stay in the shade and drink plenty of water

·         Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing

·         Watch for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke

Outdoors (above 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit):

·         Refer to Indoors list above—it is not safe to exert yourself outside with high heat and moderate to high humidity





Suggested References :

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke. (2012). emedicine Health.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2007).  National Weather Service Heat Index.

Quick Tips: Staying Active in Hot Weather. (2012). emedicine Health.

Sunburn and Sun Poisoning.  (2012). emedicine Health.

The American National Red Cross (2005). Health and Safety Tips: Heat-Related Illness.


Questions or Comments?   Please contact: Sabra Jacobs, Professor of Psychology, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, 1 Bert T. Combs Drive, Prestonsburg, KY 41653; email ; call (606) 889-4778; or stop by my office Pike Building, room 209 f on the Prestonsburg Campus.