It is safe to say that everyone loves the summer sun. It is certainly hard to beat those warm, soothing rays of sunlight that warm your skin and relax your muscles. Too much of that hot, summer sun, however, can also sneak up on you, turning a great outdoor day into a great, big disaster. The sun can harm you in a variety of ways. It can cause dehydration and heat stroke. It can cause skin cancer, especially when you are older and have many years of unprotected exposure behind you. Of course, it can also give you a nasty sunburn, which can be extremely painful.
But the summer sun can also spoil your dinner – literally. Many thousands of people head to the emergency room each summer after a fun, outdoor picnic or barbecue in which their un-refrigerated food has spoiled. It’s no fun to end a family gathering with one or more people suffering from intense nausea or diarrhea.
Here are some of the common ways the sun can turn a fun summer day into a real disaster.
The U.S. government, through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tracks sunburn statistics each year and the bad news is sunburn incidents are on the rise. The data shows that one-third of Americans – 33.7 percent – reported one case of sunburn in 2004, which is a jump from 31.8 percent in 1999.
Is this because the sun got hotter or the ozone layer got thinner? The question is moot, because whatever the cause you want to stay away from sunburns as much as you can. Just five sunburns in your lifetime, according to WebMD, doubles your risk of skin cancer (melanoma).
A standard sunburn is a first-degree burn, but this can escalate to a second-degree burn if you really overdue it. This can occur when you have fallen asleep in the sun, drank too much alcohol and passed out or spent a windy day in the sun not realizing how hot it was because of the breeze.
Here’s what to do:
- Wear adequate clothing and/or wide-brimmed hats to cover up
- Stay in the shade
- Apply sunscreen prior to going out and after swimming
- Avoid the sun during the hottest midday hours
- Use aloe or an antibiotic ointment to treat the burn
- Show any skin discoloration, texture changes or growths to your physician to catch skin cancer early
Poisoning at summer picnics occurs much more frequently than you might imagine. Although it is not usually lethal, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be extremely distressing. Notify a physician if any of these symptoms persist.
Here are a few tips that could keep you, your friends and your family safe when food preparation and storage is combined with long hours in the hot sun.
- Remember seafood, dairy products (including mayonnaise and eggs) and meat spoil faster than starches, such as potatoes, rice, beans or bread. But the condiments (ketchup, relish, mustard), salad dressings and spreads (such as jam or butter) can spoil pretty quickly
- It’s easy to contaminate food by accident; keep food and utensils clean
- Keep things chilled as long as possible
- Timing can make the difference between a healthy picnic and a pernicious one. When food is served, eat promptly. Don’t serve food until a game is over or about to end. Don’t go back to food items that have been left unfinished in the hot sun for too long
- Cook food thoroughly. Use a meat thermometer if necessary. You can cook some pathogens out of food if you don’t serve it undercooked or raw.
Dehydration and Heat Stroke
Dehydration and heat stroke sneak up on people very quickly. That is to say, you can be significantly dehydrated and not notice anything is wrong. Then, suddenly, as the dehydration becomes acute, the symptoms, which can be very dangerous, appear very quickly.
Dehydration is much more medically significant than just being thirsty. Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature remains at 104 degrees or higher for too long. This can cause significant nerve damage, including brain damage, as well as muscle dysfunction.
In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen says, “I don’t burn. I stroke.” Outside of the movies, however, heat stroke is absolutely no joke. It can cause someone to pass out, which can be extremely dangerous if you are operating equipment or engaged in a sport at the time. It can also cause seizures and hallucinations.
When you are suffering from a heat stroke, your body remains hot, but you stop sweating. That cuts you off from the body’s natural method of keeping cool. (Sweat evaporating off your skin is why a breeze feels cool on a hot day.)
If you think someone is suffering from a heat stroke or acute dehydration:
- Get them to a cool place as soon as possible
- Have them lie down
- Supply cool drinks and apply ice packs to cool them down quickly
Get them to a hospital as soon as possible.