The Summer and the Human Body
As we start out on this month’s blog article, we would like to begin by saying that we hope you are all enjoying the warm weather we have been experiencing over recent weeks, and although it may have started to cloud back over, we are hoping that the sun returns to us sometimes soon.
We know however that there will be those of us who are suffering because of it, maybe in more ways than one.
Firstly, let’s focus on the enjoyment of the sun and what appears to be a favourite pastime of people whilst the sun is blazing a warm heat across the country; yes, we are referring to sunbathing.
It has been said that the sunshine makes you feel happy and alive
Whilst sunbathing can be something that helps you to feel relaxed and happy whilst in the sun, without taking reasonable responsible steps to stay safe it can result in long-term damage to the skin. One such step is to avoid getting burnt in the sun because small amounts of sunburn damage can lead to the development of skin cancer or melanoma.
When we consider the phrase we hear a lot of the time about tanning which is ‘it makes me look good’ we need to consider the long-term health issues and damage that is happening to the skin and body. Tanning itself is a natural process when the skin creates a brown coloured pigment called melanin in order to protect itself from the effects of the harmful UV rays from the sun. A suntan is evidence of skin damage. Having said that a tan is the skin’s way of protecting itself from the harmful rays of the sun, if the damaged cells are unable to repair themselves, they can and often turn cancerous. A tan, although a way of the skin and cells protecting themselves, is not a sure-fire way of avoiding skin cancer in later life; the number of cases of skin cancer has doubled over recent years.
It is important to remember that, even with the knowledge that a tan is the skin protecting itself, there are things you can do in order to help the skin protect you.
Here we look at a few simple tips that can help you stay safe in the sun:
- Avoid being out in the sun between 11:00 and 15:00
During this time frame between March and October each year, the sun and its rays will be at their strongest and this makes it more likely that you will tan and/or burn in the rays.
- Cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses
The idea here is to prevent your skin from being too exposed to the sun, the best type of clothing here would be clothing which is loose fitting to help the air flow and keep you cool. The sunglasses, if they have a good UVA protection, will help to prevent damage to your eyes.
- Take extra care with children
You could encourage children to play in the shade, particularly at the high-risk times of the day, be it under trees or canopy etc, you could make this an exciting game for the children to keep them in the shade.
Children under the age of six months should be kept out of direct sunlight particularly at around midday.
Children (and adults for that matter) should be wearing some kind of hat while out in the sunshine, the best type of hat will have a flap that comes down to cover the wearer’s neck.
Ensure that you use sun cream on the child, particularly paying attention to their shoulders, see below for more information on sun cream.
If the child is playing in the water, it is important that they are wearing a waterproof sun cream AND that it is reapplied after drying the child from their fun in the water.
- Sun cream
There are things that you will need to check when you are purchasing and/or using sun cream. Although it may sound really obvious, you should always check that the product is fully in date. Sun cream that has gone out of date is likely to be less effective and therefore cause you to burn even though you had applied it in the first place.
You should check that the sun cream you are buying and using has an SPF factor of 15 or above, it is often recommended that children have a higher SPF, usually advised is one of 30 or above.
What is SPF?
SPF is an abbreviation for Sun Protection Factor, and has a rating scale from 2 to 50+. The higher the number the more protection that the product will provide. The SPF rating relates to the amount of Ultraviolet B radiation protection offered by using a product.
Also, when buying sun cream you should also be checking that the particular bottle you are buying has at least a 4-star UVA rating.
What is the star rating?
The star rating is a rating that demonstrates how well the sun cream being applied will protect from Ultraviolet A Radiation. In the UK the rating is a rating of up to 5 stars that you should see on the bottle, the higher the rating the better. In the EU the rating has the letters UVA in a circle, this means that the UVA protection is one third of the SPF rating and meets current EU recommendations.
If a sun cream offers both UVA and UVB protection they are often called broad spectrum.
- Avoid being outside any longer than you would if you didn’t have protection on
This is a good measure of whether you have been outside too long or not, if you wouldn’t normally be outside the length of the time you have been in the sun without protection on, then it is an indicator that you should be heading back into the shade.
- REMEMBER, even on a cloudy day you can burn
On a cloudy day, you may feel that it safe for you to be outside in the sun, the problem with this however is that in actuality even on a cloudy day 30 to 50% of the sun’s rays can still reach your skin and therefore cause burning.
Applying sun cream
Research has shown that sun cream has been applied incorrectly for many years.
First thing of note is that sun cream should be applied 30 minutes BEFORE going outside into the sun, and if you think you are going to be out long enough to risk burning the sun cream should be applied again directly before heading outside. This is something that people do not realise.
It is important that you use enough sun cream, if you do not apply it in a thick enough layer the protection that it offers just won’t be sufficient. As a general rule of thumb an adult should use:
- 2 teaspoons if you are only using it to cover head arms and neck OR
- 2 tablespoons if using to cover the whole body for example when wearing a bikini etc.
Sun cream should be reapplied frequently and liberally, as well as according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This even applies if the sun cream is ‘water resistant´, the cream should be reapplied after towelling dry, sweating or it may have rubbed off. Failure to reapply is likely to make the sun cream ineffective and therefore you may tan and/or burn.
We have included a link to the NHS How to apply sunscreen video for your reference:
Dealing with sunburn
The NHS offers advice for people who have been sunburnt as follows:
- Sponge the sore skin with cool water,
- Apply either some cooling aftersun or calomine lotion.
The NHS suggests that painkillers e.g. paracetamol or ibruprofen may help to ease the pain by helping to reduce any swelling that may be around the burn.
If you are feeling unwell, or blisters and swelling occurs you should seek medical attention. And you should ensure that you stay out of the sun until all the redness has disappeared.
Although the sun and burning is one issue whilst out in the heat, there are other health issues that should be looked at and considered, and again some of the tips that we have already provided can help to prevent you from suffering the effects of these other conditions.
We are talking about the body getting too hot at the core and causing the body to start to overheat and become very ill. The 2 health issues in question are:
- Heat Exhaustion,
- Heat Stroke.
So, let’s have a look at these separately, and consider how you would know if someone was suffering from these and how you may treat each one.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s natural reaction to losing water and body salts (electrolytes) through excessive sweating. The most common cause of heat exhaustion is working or exercising in hot weather conditions, for example playing sport, hiking, construction work on very hot days.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body’s core temperature has risen above 38˚C, if this is not treated it can, and very often does, quickly lead to heat stroke.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion?
The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are:
- Sweaty, pale skin,
- Loss of appetite,
- Fast, weak pulse and breathing,
- Cramps in the arms, legs and abdomen,
- Saying ‘I’m cold’ but actually feeling hot to touch.
How should I treat Heat Exhaustion?
- Find the casualty a cool place to rest,
- Remove excessive clothing,
- Lay the casualty down,
- Give the casualty plenty of water to drink to rehydrate, (oral rehydration solutions for example, ‘Dioralyte’ or Isotonic drinks are a good idea as they will help to replenish lost body salts (electrolytes)),
- Obtain medical advice, even if the casualty recovers quickly,
- If the casualty’s responsive levels drop, place in recovery position and call 999/112 for an ambulance,
- If necessary, treat for heat stroke.
You should always stay with your casualty until they are feeling much better and are back to ‘normal’ for them, this should take about 30 minutes but can take even longer.
If heat exhaustion is not treated quickly it can, and very often does, turn very quickly into
Heat stroke is a very serious condition, which is caused by the malfunction of the hypothalamus, which is the body’s thermostat.
During heat stroke the sweating mechanism of the body fails, therefore the body is unable to cool down and the body’s core temperature can reach dangerously high levels of over 40˚C within as short a time span as 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat stroke is caused by high fever, or prolonged exposure to heat, it very often follows on from heat exhaustion. The thing to remember about heat stroke is that the casualty’s brain is overheating.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke?
- Throbbing headache,
- Lower levels of response,
- Flushed, hot and dry skin (NO sweating).
How should I treat Heat Stroke?
- Find the casualty a cool place and move them to it,
- Call 999/112 for emergency help,
- Cool the casualty RAPIDLY, using whatever methods you can, these can include:
- Remove outer clothing,
- Wrap the casualty in cold, wet sheet,
- Keep the sheet wet and cold until the casualty’s temperature falls to normal levels,
- Then replace the sheet with a dry one.
- Other methods of cooling may include:
- Continually sponging the casualty with tepid water and fanning the casualty to help it evaporate,
- Place in a cool shower, providing that the casualty is conscious enough to do so,
- Spraying with cold water from a garden hose.
The last health issue that we would like to consider whilst we are talking about the summer and its enjoyment, is one that is very close to us, and that is the summer phenomenon that is
Hay fever medically speaking is called Allergic Rhinitis.
Generally speaking, hay fever affects sufferers mostly between late March and September when the weather is mostly warm, windy and humid. During these periods the pollen count is at its highest. The type of pollen that a sufferer is allergic to, will also have an effect on the time period that a sufferer will feel the effects of the pollen. For example, some people are only allergic to tree pollen, whereas others are allergic to more grass related pollens, which have their own seasons. The tree pollen season is typically March through to May, with the grass pollen season being May through to July, which also gives a crossover between the 2 seasons. Of course, in very hot weather the pollen levels will be high and that can last all the way through to September.
Hay Fever Signs and Symptoms
There are various signs and symptoms of hay fever and although we have provided a list below, please bear in mind that each allergy and sufferer may portray other signs and symptoms.
- Runny or blocked nose,
- Itchy, red, watery eyes,
- Itchy throat, nose, and eyes,
- Loss of smell,
- Pain around the temples and forehead,
- Feeling tired,
- Tight feeling in chest (more common with asthma as an additional health issue),
- Short of breath (more common with asthma as an additional health issue),
- Wheeze (more common with asthma as an additional health issue).
It is important to remember that hay fever will last for a period of a week or months as opposed to a cold that will only last for 1 to 2 weeks.
There is no current cure for hay fever, nor can you prevent it, however the NHS provides helpful tips to help ease the symptoms as follows:
- Put Vaseline around the nostrils to trap pollen,
- Wear wrap-around glasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes,
- Shower and change your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off,
- Stay indoors whenever possible,
- Keep windows and doors shut as much as possible,
- Vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth,
- Buy a pollen filter for the air vents in the car,
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Cut grass or walk on grass,
- Spend too much time outside,
- Keep fresh flowers in the house,
- Smoke or be around smoke as it makes the symptoms worse,
- Dry clothes outside, they will attract and catch pollen,
- Let pets into the house as they carry pollen indoors.
Doctors can prescribe medication for the symptoms of hay fever, as well as the pharmacist who may be able to advise on possible treatments that you can use to help ease the effects of hay fever. As with venturing outside in the sun and finding prevention for sunburn, sufferers should prepare themselves for hay fever by starting medication before the season begins.
We hope that you enjoy the warm weather as and when it comes and stays over the coming weeks, and hope that you have a safe and fun time in the sun.
If you want to learn more about the treatment of burns or heat stroke and heat exhaustion, then why not book a First Aid course with us.