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Health & Wellness

Playing It Safe in the Summer Heat

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Summer is the season of fun, warm weather and outdoor play.

But it can also come with some health risks, including heat stroke, sunburn, increased risk of skin cancer, dehydration and damage to our eyes.

For advice on staying safe when the temperatures rise, we turned to University of Southern California dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D. Here are her top tips :

Avoid exercising outdoors during peak sun hours (10 am to 3 pm).

Instead, plan your swims, walks, bike rides and tennis for early in the morning or late afternoon. “Not only will this keep you cooler,” says Dr. Shainhouse, “you’ll also avoid exposing your skin to the sun at a time when damaging UV rays are most intense.” If peak hours are the only time you can get out for a walk, look for shaded routes on tree-lined streets.

Be savvy about sunscreen.

Protecting your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher will help prevent sunburn and reduce your risk of developing skin damage, skin cancer and melanoma. Don’t stint on the amount you apply. To cover your body you’ll need about two tablespoons or an ounce — that’s enough to fill a shot glass or the equivalent of a dollop the size of a golf ball — with a teaspoon reserved for the face, ears and neck. Reapply every two hours, more frequently if you’re super-sweaty, Dr. Shainhouse says, adding, “Try a quick-absorbing gel formula or a waxy stick sunscreen that will stay put and not run into your eyes and mouth while you sweat.” For an extra dose of protection, don a wide-brimmed hat.

Protect your eyes.

Wear sunglasses whenever you’re outdoors or in the car during daylight hours. That will reduce the sun’s glare, which will help you keep your eyes on the road in front of you when driving, walking or biking. Sunglasses, Dr. Shainhouse says, “also eliminate squinting in the sun, which can reduce the risk of developing UV-induced cataracts.” 

Stay alert to signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion and the more severe heat stroke are conditions that are triggered by the body’s inability to cool itself. These heat-related illnesses are often a combination of high temperatures, high humidity, and physical exertion. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) points out that older adults are more prone to heat stress because they don’t adjust as well as younger people to changes in temperature and they may have chronic medical conditions or be taking medication that affect the body’s ability to respond to heat.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion, Dr. Shainhouse says, may include heavy sweating, clammy skin, dizziness, headache and weakness. For mild symptoms, you’ll want to move to a cool place immediately, loosen your clothes, put wet clothes on your body, as well as sip water or electrolyte-enhanced drinks.

More severe symptoms, such as a high body temperature; a racing pulse; hot red skin and a loss of consciousness may be a signal of heat stroke and may be a life-threatening medical emergency. If you see these signs in someone, move them to a cooler place and call 911 immediately. You can find more information from the CDC about heat-related illness here.

Regulate what you eat and drink.

To replenish the fluids you’re losing to sweating and avoid dehydration, you’ll want to drink more water than usual in hot weather. That means not waiting until you’re thirsty to take a few glugs from your nearby water bottle. You may also keep your home cooler if you can avoid turning on the stove or oven. So, consider expanding your repertory of no-cook meals like salads, chilled soups and store-bought rotisserie chicken. To get inspired, try searching the internet for “no-cook summer recipes.”

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