By Dr. Robert Nolte
Summer is a time to be outdoors, whether you’re swimming at a pool, enjoying a cookout or playing sports. To make sure you safely enjoy yourself, here are some tips for protecting yourself against the harmful effects of the sun and the summer heat.
Preventing Sunburn and Skin Cancer
First, it’s best to avoid the hours of greatest sun intensity, which are typically 10 a.m.-4 p.m. You need to be particularly cautious when on water or sand, as these reflect the sun’s rays and can intensify the damage.
When you are outside, seek out shade or cover as much as you can. When you do venture out into the sun, we encourage people to use a wide-brimmed hat, which protects your ears and neck as well as your scalp. Picking the right clothes to wear – particularly tightly woven fabrics and darker colors – can provide additional sun protection. Sunglasses are important to help protect the skin around the eyes and may help prevent cataracts. Of course, we also strongly recommend protecting any exposed skin with sunscreen.
When choosing sunscreen it’s recommended that the sun protection factor (SPF) be at least 15, as sunscreens with a lower SPF have not been shown to prevent skin cancer. Typically an SPF of between 30 and 50 is recommended. You should look for sunscreens that are labeled as broad spectrum, which will block both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are most associated with sunburn, while UVA rays also cause skin damage and premature aging of the skin. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two to four hours, or more frequently if you’re in the water or sweat heavily.
Staying Cool Outdoors
If you’re looking to get in an outdoor workout, I would encourage you to avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day. Also keep in mind that on more humid days, your body will be less efficient at cooling itself, increasing your risk of heat illness.
Staying well hydrated is vitally important when exercising outside during the summer. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to start replacing fluids, because at that point you are already dehydrated. Your body needs several days to acclimate to heat, so if you’re not accustomed to the heat and are starting to exercise outside, I would encourage starting slowly and gradually increasing your intensity over several days.
It’s important to know the signs of heat illness. Fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness and nausea are all symptoms. You also may notice profuse sweating with cool, clammy skin, or you may stop sweating altogether. If your symptoms are mild, seek out shade and drink fluids. The fluids should not contain alcohol or caffeine. If your symptoms are mild and begin improving within an hour, it’s best to stay out of the sun and heat and instead find a cool place to rest. If your mild symptoms don’t improve within an hour, it is best to seek medical attention right away.
If you’re experiencing severe symptoms such as confusion, a fever of more than 103 degrees or vomiting that prevents you from being able to keep fluids down, you need immediate medical attention.
Celebrate Summer With Your UVA Health System Providers
To get your summer off to a fun, healthy start, come join University of Virginia Health System care providers from six practices managed by Novant Health UVA Health System from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, June 2, for a family friendly block party at Braggs Corner. This afternoon event will include free health screenings, games, music and food trucks at 16200 Bennett Road in Culpeper. It’s brought to you by UVA Primary Care Family Care of Culpeper, UVA Primary Care Culpeper Family Practice, UVA Primary Care Commonwealth Medical, UVA Pediatrics Culpeper, UVA Primary Care Madison and UVA Primary Care Locust Grove. We look forward to seeing you!
Dr. Robert Nolte works at UVA Primary Care Family Care of Culpeper.