Baseball games and hot dogs. Late nights and lightning bugs. There’s really nothing quite like the simple joys of a Texas summer—and there’s also nothing that compares to summer’s unforgiving, unfiltered sun rays and brutal bouts of unbroken heat, both of which can lead to serious health conditions arising from heat illness or skin cancer.
The good news is that you don’t have to become a cave dweller in order to stay healthy during the hotter months, especially when you know how to recognize and react to the signs of sun-related illness:
Know the facts about sun poisoning and heat illness
Sun poisoning is the term that some people use to refer to the ill effects of sunburn, such as nausea, chills, fever, headache, and a general feeling of unwellness.
Heat illness (also called heatstroke or heat exhaustion) is a serious condition that occurs when the body overheats to the point that it can no longer regulate its internal temperature. Heat illness strikes thousands of people each year, sometimes with fatal results.
If you or someone you’re with has been out in the sun and begins to exhibit any of the following symptoms, it’s time to take action:
- Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
- Dizziness, disorientation, or slurred speech
- Fainting, sudden fatigue, or weakness
- Flushed skin or a change in sweating (like skin that is suddenly dry or moist)
- High body temperature
- Nausea, cramping, or vomiting
- Rapid breathing or heart rate
- Severe or recurring headache
What to do: When dealing with possible sun poisoning or heat illness, the safest bet is to seek medical attention immediately. While you’re waiting on emergency personnel, driving to the urgent care clinic, or waiting on the doctor’s office to call you back, the affected person should be placed in shade or air conditioning and given a cool bath or a sponge down with a cool, wet cloth.
How to beat the summer heat or How to prevent heat illness
By far, the best way to avoid heat illness or skin damage during the summer is to stay inside between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. in an environment that’s air conditioned or equipped with an electric fan.
Of course, anyone who has lived in Texas for more than a minute knows that summer temperatures can sizzle almost around the clock. So anytime you’re outside, during peak hours or otherwise, you can take steps to protect yourself with these best practice tips:
One: Hydrate often.
Water is your best friend, but other low-sugar, water-based beverages or sports drinks, especially those that replace minerals and salt lost through perspiration, are beneficial, too.
Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to take a swig, either. Instead, drink often, regardless of your activity level, and keep the alcoholic beverage consumption to a minimum (or avoid altogether).
Two: Stock up on sunscreen.
When you’re shopping, look for waterproof sunscreen and lip balm with “broad spectrum protection” of 15 to 50 SPF. Apply generously before you head outside, making sure to cover the tips of your ears, your face, your feet and the back of your neck. Reapply every couple of hours. (Bonus tip: Keep a sunscreen stick in your purse or bag for easy, drip-free reapplication.)
Three: Wear the right clothes.
Light-colored, loose fitting clothing made of synthetic fabrics (not cotton) can help you fight off heat and excessive perspiration. Accessorize with wide-brimmed hats and UV ray-blocking sunglasses.
Four: Take frequent breaks.
If you’re playing, working, or exercising in the sun, you should stop and rest often in a shady area. Use that time to get off your feet, hydrate, and sponge off with a cool, wet towel or douse yourself with cool water.
Five: Pay attention.
During the hot months, you should never leave anyone in a parked car, regardless of their age, and even if the windows are rolled down or there is water to drink. This goes for pets, too.
Also, be sure and check on elderly relatives and neighbors during the summer to make sure that their surroundings are sufficiently cool and that they have plenty of access to hydrating beverages.
Emergency room physician, Brad Sellers, DO, on the medical staff at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, spoke to WFAA Channel 8 about the signs, symptoms and treatment options of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Click here to watch.