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Sunscreen, sipping water, sunglasses: Stay safe in heat

Published July 3, 2013 1:40 pm

Health • Fight heat illnesses and Utah's high skin cancer rate with good prep work.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Summer's sky high temperatures can quickly take a toll on Utahns of all ages — kids feel its effects faster than adults, seniors may not realize just how hot they are and pets can suffer, too. Meanwhile, Utah's high elevation puts everyone at risk of sunburn — and skin cancer.

Staying hydrated, slathered in sunscreen and sporting sunglasses can help keep you safe in the sun. And watch for red flags: People often fail to notice they are teetering on the edge of heat-related sickness until the symptoms hit hard, said Matthew Feil, an emergency room doctor at Lakeview Hospital where .

"If you start to feel weak and thirsty, maybe nauseous, or a little confused, that's your body waving a flag and saying, 'give me some water and cool me down,' " he said. "If you cool down and drink some water, it should go away pretty quick."

For more tips:

Hydrate against heat illnesses • Hydrating — although not with caffeinated drinks — is key, said Matthew Feil, an emergency room doctor at Lakeview Hospital. He recommends wearing a hydration system or carrying water at all times, even when working outside at home.

"Preparation is key," he said. "And don't ignore the signs. Your body is the best governor."

Heat exhaustion is the most common heat-related illness. The symptoms include general weakness, dehydration, nausea, flushed skin, headache, abdominal pain, muscle cramping and mild confusion.

Symptoms for the more severe heat stroke, which is rare, include all of the above plus seizures and drooling, persistent confusion or hallucinations. If you're feeling ill:

• Get indoors or into the shade. Lie down. Remove restrictive clothing.

• Hydrate with water or sports drinks.

• Use a wet wash cloth or spray bottle of water on skin.

• Seek medical attention if symptoms persist, if throwing up occurs or if headaches persist and it's difficult to take fluids. Call 911 for anyone experiencing seizures.

Protect your skin • Utah has the highest rates of skin cancer in the nation. That's due in part to the elevations where we pursue our outdoor-centered lifestyle, which expose us to high amounts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, said Lori Maness, outreach coordinator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Using sunscreen should be standard practice, particularly the kind that is thick and white and the hardest to spread on. "The ones you hate are usually the best ones for you," she said.

• Choose sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, chemicals which are most effective at blocking UV rays.

• Reapply sunscreens every two hours — set a timer as a reminder. Check labels for recommendations on reapplying it after you get wet.

• Soothe burns with aloe vera or other moisturizing creams; use aspirin or ibuprofen for inflammation. Seek immediate medical attention for burns that blister or are extremely painful.

• Wear hats and tightly woven clothing with long sleeves. UV-rated clothing is also good.

Each sunburn raises the risk of developing cancer, and men should be extra vigilant, Maness said. "Men are getting diagnosed with higher stage melanoma than women," she said.

Grab your shades • Wear sunglasses — melanoma can be found in the eyes, not just on the skin, Maness said.

Look for sunglasses that protect from both UVA and UVB rays, with polarized lenses to cut out light, said Dale Hardy, former president of the Utah Optometric Association.

He advises patients to keep sunglasses on hand, not in your car. Most car windows shield drivers from harmful rays, he said, and it's important to wear sunglasses during "that period between the front door and the inside of your car."

Keep an eye on the kids • Children's bodies heat up five times faster than adults, said Janet Brooks, child advocacy manager at Primary Children's Medical Center.

"Once children's body temperatures elevate to 105, 106 degrees or higher, they are in danger of seizures and not being able to recover," she said.

• Keep children occupied indoors during the hottest parts of the day.

• Outdoors, keep them hydrated, slathered with sunscreen and wearing sunglasses that protect against ultraviolet (UV) rays.

• Check with pediatricians and pharmacists about medications that might react to extreme heat, sunlight or UV rays.

• Don't leave children unattended in vehicles, where temperatures can rise nearly 20 degrees every 10 minutes.

• If a child shows signs of heat exhaustion and remains alert, get them indoors or into shade, lie them down and elevate their feet to prevent shock. Give them frequent sips of cool water. Cool baths also help.

• Children suffering from heat stroke should be taken to an emergency room.

If children go missing on hot days, search for them first near water or in cars. "Those are the two places that they can get into trouble the most easily and that are the most deadly," Brooks said.

Eager for exercise? • Most people can safely exercise in the heat if they take some simple precautions, Feil said. "Typically if you drink a lot of fluids and wear the right clothes, you'll be OK, even in the heat of the day." His advice:

• Don't try a new activity or sport in the extreme heat.

• Wear a hydration system or carry water bottles. Pack an adequate water supply for camping trips, hiking, bicycling or other activities.

• To beat the heat, shorten outdoor exercise times, work out in early morning hours or consider moving exercise routines indoors.

Seniors at risk • Older Utahns don't often take precautions against heat illnesses until they've already reached a crisis point, Feil said. The elderly have lower body fat, so they to not notice the heat as much, he explained. Reduced appetites and slower thinking can also play a role.

Some may be living on fixed incomes and refrain from using air conditioners, swamp coolers or fans in order save money.

"They also may not have people checking on them or helping them out," Feil said. "They are often the ones that end up in trouble."

Salt Lake County Aging Services suggests seniors who are hot at home head to air-conditioned senior centers, movie theaters, libraries or shopping malls. To find the nearest center in Salt Lake County, call 385-468-3080.

More tips for seniors:

• Check with physicians about medications and medical conditions that may be exacerbated by heat or contribute to dehydration.

• Drink extra fluids.

• Don't skimp on using the air conditioner or other cooling devices.

Utahns can also call Salt Lake County Aging Services to donate new fans to help seniors in need.

Protecting pets • Pets can suffer from heat illnesses, too, said Carl Arky, spokesman for The Humane Society of Utah. Owners should call it quits quicker than normal on blistering summer days.

"You're the human," he tells owners. "Use your common sense."

Watch for heavy panting, vomiting, fever, rapid heartbeat, glazed eyes and sluggishness. If a pet appears ill, move to the shade, offer small drinks of water, briefly dampen fur with wet towels, ice packs and cold water — and rush struggling animals to a veterinarian, he said.

Some breeds, such as pugs and bull dogs, should stay inside during heat waves, and owners with overweight pets should consult vets, he added. More tips for pets:

• Avoid leaving pets in the car.

• Supply lots of cool drinking water at all times.

• Early morning and evening are best for exercise. Bring a gallon of fresh cold water.

• Hot asphalt — and even concrete—can burn paws and overheat smaller pets. Grassy areas work best.

• For longer outings, coat wet noses with children's sunscreen

• Keep Fido cool and in the shade. At home, keep air conditioning on during the day — or at least keep air moving with a fan or breeze.

• Pets who hike, sail or lounge in the sun for hours at a time should wear t-shirts or protective sun gear to protect from skin cancer.

• Don't shave: Trimming is OK, but shaving pets can mean sunburns and take away insulation, leaving them overheated.

• Before the 4th of July, make sure pet ID tags are current and aim to get pets safely indoors before neighborhood fireworks go off.

More pets run away around July Fourth than any other time of year, said Temma Martin, spokeswoman for Best Friends Animal Society. Dogs have "jumped through windows, broken through screen doors, dug under fences" because the explosions spook them, she said.