As the summer approaches, so do the hot and humid days. With the days being longer, we tend to make the most out of them by staying outside longer. I am a strong advocate for outdoor activity, but with these extremely hot days it is important to take precautions to protect yourself and loved ones from the very real dangers that are associated with the sun and heat. Staying safe in the sun is on the minds of many people these days. However, in my opinion, staying safe in the sun should be on the everyone’s mind. Have you ever been told to not look directly into the sun? Aside from the obvious discomfort that would cause, there are some serious dangers in staring at the sun. It is widely known that the sun emits ultra violet radiation, and that the ultra violet radiation has adverse affects on the human body. What is not so widely know is that there are a few different types of ultra violet radiation that are differentiated by their wavelength. They are UV A, UV B, and UV C. Today, I am going to focus on just two of them and how they affect us. In addition to that, I want to touch on common types of heat related problems such as dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Staying safe in the sun – Protection against Ultra Violet Rays
Let’s begin with Ultra violet radiation. This is basically the sun’s output of energy. It is responsible for sun burns, sun tans, skin cancer, aging of the skin and damage to the eyes. The two types that I am going to focus on are UV A and UV B. In many ways UV A rays are the most harmful in that they are not absorbed by the ozone layer and that most sunscreens that do not protect against them. They have a longer wavelength that penetrates deep into the skin, and can affect the skin’s tone and elasticity. These are the rays that cause the skin to tan.
Staying safe in the sun – Protect your skin
UV B rays are considered not as harmful, because they are somewhat absorbed into the ozone layer and most sunscreens do in fact protect against them. However, UV B rays can be very harmful if proper protection is not applied. UV B rays destroy the outer layer of skin causing sunburns. They also damage the DNA of skin cells so that they can no longer make protein. They can eventually completely change the DNA, and when that changed DNA is duplicated the result is cancer cells, followed by skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. It tends to develop slowly, and can be fatal. There are three types of skin cancer, Malignant Melanoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Malignant Melanoma is the most deadly of the three. It is almost always found in adults but fortunately it is also the least common type of skin cancer. Melanoma is the type that expands from a mole, and can move to other places if not treated. It comes from the skin cells that are responsible for creating the skin’s pigment, Melanin, which incidentally is where it gets its name. Next, we come to Basal Cell Carcinoma (also referred to as Rodent Ulcer), this is the most common form of skin cancer, and usually develops on exposed areas of the body like the nose, ears, etc. It usually starts as a red patch or shiny bump and grows slowly, and fortunately it rarely causes death. Last is Squamous Cell Carcinoma. It is less common than Basal Cell Carcinoma but tends to be a bit more violent. This type begins as a raised patch of skin like a wart, or sometimes more of a crusty area. Again, it is slow to advance and is more commonly found on fair skinned adults. These three types of cancer are in a group which represents the most common form of cancer: skin cancer. However the number of people affected could be drastically reduced if we would take the time to apply sunscreen, and wear a shirt and a hat if we plan on being in the direct sunlight for extended periods.
Staying safe in the sun – Protect your eyes
Another problem caused by ultra violet radiation that we must deal with is damage to the eyes. There are a few types of eye damage to protect against: Cataracts, Snow Blindness, Pterygum, and Retinal Burn. Cataracts result in a loss of clarity, ending in cloudy vision. If they are left untreated, the end result could even be a loss of vision completely. The only way to repair them is surgery. Snow Blindness occurs when the surface of the eye is burnt. Usually the effects of Snow Blindness go away within a couple days, however, it has the potential to cause problems later on. Pterygum is a tissue growth on the whites of the eyes that can hinder one’s vision. It may in fact cause damage to parts of the eyes where perceptual vision is most clear. With Retinal Burn the victim may not realize there is a problem at first because this type of damage occurs without the onset of pain. Symptoms usually occur hours after the damage occurs, but it’s too late by then. These types of injuries can be easily avoided by use of sunglasses.
I know that for some people, part of the fun in the sun comes from getting a flawless tan with few lines. The fact is that not only does tanning affect the skin in a negative way, but if it is done without precautions, the danger increases quite a bit.
Staying safe in the sun – Dehydration
Last but certainly not least we come to Heat Stroke, Heat Exhaustion, and Dehydration. All three of these issues can be life threatening. Dehydration is the result of your body losing more water than you are taking in. It can be the result of vomiting, sweating, urination, and diarrhea. For our purposes it is due to long exposure to the sun on a hot day. The human body is designed with a built in cooling system. Basically our bodies create a lot of internal heat. As we are exposed to outside sources of heat, we must maintain the proper amount within our bodies. To do that we sweat in order to cool ourselves. If we sweat too much and don’t replace that water lost then we become dehydrated. Common symptoms of dehydration are as follows: thirst, headache, dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, fatigue, seizure, hot dry skin that is flushed, high body temperature, loss of consciousness, rapid heart beat, dark colored urine, and hallucinations. A very clear and easily understood warning sign of dehydration is thirst. If you are thirsty, then you are already starting to dehydrate (drink some water).
Staying safe in the sun – Heat Exhaustion
Heat Exhaustion is a condition resulting from your body’s failure to cool itself. When your body temperature rises, you start to sweat. That sweat evaporates resulting in the body being cooled. However, if your body temperature rises faster than it can be cooled, you will start to feel ill. Some symptoms that co-inside with heat exhaustion are heavy sweating, fatigue, confusion, dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heart beat, and dark colored urine indicating dehydration. If you think that you have heat exhaustion you need to quickly get out of the heat. Go somewhere that is air conditioned or, if you can’t, find some shade. Drink plenty of water or other fluids except for alcohol. Remove any unnecessary clothing and apply cool water to your skin, or take a cool shower. If these symptoms don’t go away within 30 mins, seek medical attention before it escalates to Heat Stroke.
Staying safe in the sun – Heat Stroke
Heat Stroke is much more serious than Heat Exhaustion. Heat strokes kill 10% of its victims. It is the result of your body reaching a temperature of 104 degrees or higher. These high temperatures can cause damage to the brain or organs, which in turn can result in death. Symptoms of heat stroke include high fever (104°F or higher), severe headache, dizziness and feeling light-headed, a flushed or red appearance to the skin, lack of sweating, muscle weakness or cramps, nausea, vomiting, fast heartbeat, fast breathing, feeling confused, anxious or disoriented, and seizures. If you think that someone is suffering from heat stroke, it is imperative that they get medical attention immediately. Once the EMS is in route there are some things that can be done to help them. Get them to a cool place, a house or building with air conditioning is best, or a shaded area will help. Remove any unnecessary clothing and apply cool water to their skin. Fanning them will help as well. Apply ice packs to the head, neck, armpits, and groin. They are areas with a lot of blood vessels.
When you are outside this summer, be sure to be safe around your pool, as well as in the sun. The dangers outlined within this post are serious and can affect anyone regardless of what they are doing. You could be working, sun bathing, gardening, or doing any other outdoor activity. It doesn’t matter, take precautions. Wear sunscreen, a hat, a shirt and sunglasses, drink plenty of water, take breaks and get cooled down. If you experience any symptoms listed above, seek help. Don’t become part of that 10%, don’t blind yourself, don’t burn yourself. Protect yourself and your loved ones and always be safe.