Summertime means most people will spend more time outside with toes in the sand, splashing in the water, camping or hiking, or simply relaxing in the sun. Some common health threats and injuries during the summer include sunburn, submersion illness/drowning, and heat-related illness.
Ouch! Sunburns are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. A sunburn can occur quite quickly depending on several environmental and patient-related factors. Ultimately, cumulative exposures to UV rays add up and increase a person’s risk for skin cancer.
According to the CDC, more than 37% of US adults report a sunburn in the last year (data collected, 2010). Of those reporting sunburns, most are under the age of 49. The Healthy People 2020 Goal for adults reporting sunburns is less than 33.8%. The data is even more concerning for younger people. In high school seniors, approximately 50% of males and 60% of females report having a sunburn in the past year, according to the CDC, 2017.
The good news is sunburns can be prevented! Education regarding use of sunscreen containing sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or more is incredibly important. The sunscreen should be applied liberally to exposed areas and prior to going outdoors. It is also important to inform patients that just because the sun may be behind clouds does not mean harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are not coming through. Additional education about staying in the shade, wearing a hat to protect the scalp, and other clothing to cover up exposed skin is valuable in the prevention of sunburn.
Vigilance around the water should be a priority for all. Injuries and death can occur if those in and around the water are not water competent. The CDC notes that approximately 10 people die every day due to drowning, and one in five who die from drowning is a child under the age of 14. In addition, for each child that dies of drowning, another five children are treated for non-fatal water-related injuries in an emergency department.
Discussing water safety with patients is an important preventive service. It only takes a brief moment for a weak swimmer to drown. Talk with patients about swim classes, knowing one’s limits, water hazards (rip currents, river currents, water temperature, vegetation, etc.), swimming with a buddy, and use of life vests. Encourage people to swim where lifeguards are present and remind everyone that CPR skills can be lifesaving in the event of water emergencies.
Heat-related illness and dehydration:
Spending a significant amount of time in the heat can result in various heat-related illnesses or cause dehydration if one does take proper precautions to stay cool and well hydrated. Education related to symptomology related to heat-related illness, prevention, and treatment is vital. Heat exhaustion is considered a less severe form of heat illness that can result after prolonged exposure to heat and lack of fluid replacement. Signs and symptoms include sweating, headache, dizziness, rapid pulse, cool and clammy skin, and fatigue. Treatment includes moving to a cool place, sips of fluid, and application of cool cloths to the skin. Medical attention should be sought if symptoms fail to resolve, worsen or new symptoms develop. Heatstroke is a more severe heat-related illness if signs and symptoms are identified medical attention should be sought immediately. Things that may occur in a person having a heat stroke include red, hot skin, headache, high temperature (103o and higher), nausea, confusion, and confusion. While awaiting medical attention, be sure to move the person to a cooler location and apply cool cloths. The CDC has a great infographic on heat exhaustion and heat stroke as well as other heat-related illnesses. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/warning.html