Expats and travellers alike will spend lots of time in the sun in August as they enjoy their summer holidays. Yet while natural rays are certainly preferable to the fluorescent glare of office lighting, there are health risks associated with too much sun. The most obvious are dehydration and heat stroke.
Dehydration is a condition where more water is leaving the body (through sweat, for example) than is coming in. Early on the only symptom of dehydration will be thirst, but as it becomes more pronounced muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, light-headedness and even heart palpitations can follow.
Left untreated the body’s temperature will continue to rise, potentially leading to unconsciousness, organ failure and even death–this more severe condition is known as sun stroke or heat stroke. Young children (especially infants) and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to these conditions.
It’s easy to prevent dehydration and heat stroke by taking time out of the sun and drinking plenty of water. Sunscreen rated SPF 30 or above will also help protect the body from sun damage. People with a high risk of suffering these conditions should not spend more than a couple hours out in the sun at a any given time.
If prevention fails, however:
- Get cool. Find a shady area, remove layers of clothing if necessary and apply cool water to the skin with a damp cloth or hose.
- Drink cool liquids, preferably water. It should be consumed in small sips, even if the person is very thirsty. Never give a person suffering from dehydration or heat stroke soft drinks or alcohol.
- Monitor body temperature if possible. You want to continue the cooling techniques listed above until the person’s body temperature falls to 38 C or 101-102 F.
- Call emergency services. If you suspect either yourself or someone near you to be suffering dehydration or heat stroke call emergency services as soon as possible. If you are at a beach or other public event, notify a lifeguard or health worker immediately. Severe cases often require hospitalization, as doctors will use an IV drip to re-hydrate the victim.
Again, the best treatment for dehydration and heat stroke is prevention. Drink plenty of water, limit your time in direct sunlight and you will surely spend this August holiday in a beach chair instead of a hospital bed.