It will soon be warm outside (hopefully) – time to starting thinking about summer. This week, I want to briefly review some sun and water safety tips.
Most people enjoy a good day in the sun. Whether it’s lounging by the water or working outdoors, we all get our fair share of sun every summer. Everyone knows you can get a burn if you’re out in the sun too long. However, many people don’t realize that you can still get a burn in the shade or on a cloudy day. Ultraviolet rays come in two forms: UVA and UVB. UVA accelerates aging of the skin, while both UVA and UVB can cause skin cancer.
Sunscreen lotions work by absorbing the UV rays before they penetrate into your skin and cause damage. They can be effective, but only if used properly. Dermatologists will all tell you it’s safer to use physical blocking agents like widely available sun-protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats.
Sunscreens are rated using the “SPF” scale. Don’t bother with lotions with an SPF below 15. An SPF of 15 theoretically allows you to stay in the sun 15 times longer before you burn. However, the effectiveness does not last near that long since the lotion usually wears off from sweating, swimming, or friction. They should be applied liberally (at least 2-3 Tablespoons per application) before going out in the sun. They need to be re-applied at least every two hours. It’s important to get a broad-spectrum lotion that absorbs UVA and UVB. You should also use lip balm with sunscreen.
There was a recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that raised some concerns about four chemicals found in sunscreens (avobenzene, oxybenzone, ecamsule & octocrylene). The chemicals, particularly oxybenzone, were elevated in the blood of the 24 study participants after applying the agents to 75 percent of their bodies four times a day for 4 days. These amounts were about twice what would be considered normal applications in the real world. The FDA is requiring safety testing to determine if the increased levels have any adverse health effects. Current thinking is that the risk of sun damage to the skin is much higher than any health effects from these chemicals in the bloodstream.
Sun intensity is highest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. so try to minimize exposure during those hours. Sunburns suffered in childhood are a major risk factor for skin cancer later in life, so model good behavior and tell your kids the importance of protecting themselves. Regular use of sunscreen in kids can lower their risk of skin cancer by almost 78 percent.
Don’t forget your sunglasses! While most folks apply sunscreen to their skin, they forget to protect their eyes. UV radiation can cause damage to the lenses in your eyes and lead to cataracts. Be sure and read the tag on the glasses to make sure they’re rated to block 99 to 100 percent of the UVA and UVB rays. Wraparound glasses are the most effective.
If you’re in the sun, water often isn’t too far away. An estimated 260 children under age five drown each year in residential swimming pools and spas. Another 3,000 are treated in emergency rooms for submersion accidents that often lead to permanent brain damage. Nationally, drowning is the fourth leading cause of death in children under five.
If you have young children, you must NEVER leave them alone near a pool or in the care of an older child. It only takes a brief lapse in supervision to change your lives forever. Although most communities only require an automatic pool cover for safety purposes, you should also include a fence at least four feet high around the pool that has self-closing gates. If your kids are visiting a friend’s pool, make sure the adults understand your kids are not to be left alone near the water. While swim lessons are advisable, they do not decrease the risk of drowning in kids under four. Flotation devices and swim lessons are not a substitute for adult supervision.
Rescue equipment, including a life preserver and shepherd’s hook, should be kept nearby. Have a cell phone or portable phone by the pool so you don’t have to go inside and leave kids unattended. Know CPR and consider taking a lifesaving class if you own a pool.
When boating, skiing or tubing, always wear a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Remember that alcohol and boating don’t mix. Half of all drownings are caused by boating accidents involving alcohol. If you have to rescue someone in the water always remember the saying, “reach, throw, row, go” to reduce the chance that you become a victim also. You should first try to reach the person with an object, then throw something to them, then take a boat to them. Finally, as an absolute last resort, go into the water after them.
Dr. John Roberts is a licensed medical physician. He writes a weekly column exclusively for Sagamore News Media publications.