Spending time outdoors is a healthy way to social distance during the coronavirus pandemic. But as temperatures inch higher, popular summer pastimes can be dangerous if certain precautions are not taken.
During hot weather, two things block the human’s ability to tolerate heat: temperatures greater than 90 degrees and humidity greater than 35% – both of which occur in the Lowcountry.
So every day before you go outside, make it a habit to look up the heat index on your computer or phone. It will remind you not to leave without sunglasses and sunscreen.
If you’re outdoors during the hottest times of the day, typically 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you might want to reduce physical exertion and take frequent breaks in the shade. It also helps to wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and a hat to cover your face.
There are two major concerns for heat-related illness: 1. immediate (such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke), and 2. delayed (skin cancer, cataracts).
Dehydration symptoms include dry mouth, headache, dizziness and dark-colored urine and-or a decreased output of urine. Children younger than 2 and adults older than 60 are especially susceptible to dehydration.
Start by drinking one quart of water in the morning, at each meal and throughout your day. It is better to drink small amounts of water often than large amounts all at once. Alcohol is not a substitute for water.
Signs of heat exhaustion include muscle cramps in the abdomen, legs or arms, weakness, loss of appetite, dizziness, excessive sweating, skin that is moist, cool and pale, nausea, the urge to defecate, chills, rapid breathing, confusion, and tingling of the hands or feet.
If you start feeling these symptoms do the following: Stop physical activity, move to a cooler, shaded area, drink water and place a wet, cool cloth around your neck. If symptoms don’t improve, seek medical attention at an emergency room.
Heat stroke can cause headache, dizziness, stomach pains, confusion, weakness, sudden loss of consciousness, seizures, hot and dry skin, and a weak or rapid pulse. This is a medical emergency. Do not drive. Immediately call 911.
Sun exposure can damage your skin in as few as 15 minutes. While sunburns can be painful, more than one sunburn can lead to skin cancer.
Whether you are in the shade or it’s a cloudy or cool day, you should still apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to exposed skin before you go outside. Reapply it every two hours and after swimming or sweating. (Be sure to check your sunscreen’s expiration date. Sunscreen has a shelf life of no more than three years, and less if exposed to high temperatures.)
Protect your eyes by choosing sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
Finally, remember that medicines can alter the heat removal mechanism – especially diuretics, phenothiazine, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, alcohol consumption, and amphetamines.
Dr. Chip Fowlkes is a board-certified emergency medicine specialist at Beaufort Memorial Express Care & Occupational Medicine in Bluffton.