Health Care

How to avoid a big bummer this summer

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  • Sure, summer in the Lowcountry means fun in the sun, drinks by the beach and backyard barbecues with friends. But it also means skyrocketing temperatures, dangerous ultraviolet rays, potentially problematic water-related activities and creepy creatures lurking nearby.

    Before diving headfirst into a summer disaster, get your feet wet with some simple safety tips. Here's what experts say about some of the more common dangers of the season and how to deal with them.


    Most people are aware of the dangerous effects of the sun and the need for protection. But do you know what's in that bottle of sunscreen?

    Dr. Christopher LeBlanc of Bluffton-Okatie Primary Care said it's important to use a broad-spectrum sunblock, which protects against UVA and UVB rays.

    The Food and Drug Administration recently announced new requirements for over-the-counter sunblocks. By the summer of 2012, products that don't protect against both UVA and UVB rays or have an SPF of at least 15 must warn consumers they don't protect against skin cancer or early skin aging.

    LeBlanc recommends an SPF of at least 30. He also suggests using a water-resistant sunblock and applying it every two hours. Don't ignore sunscreen on cloudy days; 80 percent of the sun's UV rays still get through clouds. And don't forget to protect your pucker, either.

    "People don't think about their lips," LeBlanc said. "They burn just as easily, and they are just as susceptible to cancer. So find a lip balm with SPF."

    If you do get a sunburn, Dr. Clark Trask of Coastal Care MD in Beaufort suggests taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, within the first 24 hours to decrease redness. Apply aloe vera or lotion to the skin immediately after bathing in order to trap the moisture. For an extra cooling sensation, store your aloe in the refrigerator.


    LeBlanc said people can avoid most problems caused by excessive heat by staying hydrated and doing their outdoor activities as early in the morning or as late in the evening as possible. That's especially important for the very young and the very old.

    "When it does get up to 95 degrees, 100 percent humidity, they're going to suffer from dehydration a lot quicker than our average population," he said.

    LeBlanc said people should drink 64 ounces of water -- that's eight, 8-ounce glasses -- on a routine day. If you're spending the day in the sun, try to double that. You'll get a good indicator of how hydrated you are when you use the restroom., he said.

    "If you're not peeing clear, you're not drinking enough," LeBlanc said.

    Always keep an eye out for heat stroke. Trask said warning signs include a temperature higher than 104 degrees, changes in mental status, an elevated heart rate, low blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhea. And if you stop sweating, it's a medical emergency that can be fatal.

    "If someone has been out in the heat and they pass out ... get them in a cool place and call 911," Trask said.


    Whether you're swimming, boating, surfing or paddleboarding, experts say it's important to know your limits and to have a healthy respect for the water.

    While lifeguards are trained to know what drowning looks like, the average person isn't. Libby Lynskey, director of health and safety for the Charleston region of the American Red Cross, said it's often when someone stops doing an activity that there is a problem. If someone is motionless, under the water for a long period of time or does not blow bubbles under the water, they are likely in trouble.

    Don't rely on water wings or swimming vests to keep children safe. They are designed to keep children on top of the water but not necessarily to keep them face up, Lynskey said. Coast Guard-approved life vests are designed to roll someone face up.

    "If they're upside down already, it's going to keep them upside down on top of the water," she said. "That doesn't help."

    Lynskey tells parents to remain within an arm's length of their children in the water. Teach them how to swim and how to exit the water. Always have rescue equipment and a phone nearby in case of an emergency. At least one adult should be trained in CPR.


    Jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-wars and other sea creatures always pose risks at the beach. If you're stung, LeBlanc recommends soaking or rinsing the affected area in vinegar for 15 to 30 minutes. No vinegar? Rinse with sea water. Jellyfish after-sting gel can also help. Do not use fresh water, hot water or ice, and don't rub the area. Doing so causes more toxins to be released. Go to the doctor if the pain is intense.

    Bugs driving you nuts? Ditch them with screened porches, long-sleeved shirts and bug spray. Keep in mind the American Academy for Pediatrics said children younger than two months old should not use products that contain the insect repellent DEET. At 2 months old, they should use products that contain less than 30 percent DEET -- and only once a day.

    Poisonous snake bites require a quick trip to the emergency room for antivenin, Trask said, so go as soon as possible.

    "We're all getting out and trying all kinds of new things this time of year," LeBlanc said. "It all seems pretty fun, but just know your limits. Don't try anything new on the open water. ... Use your common sense."