Tips for Staying Safe During Fourth of July Weekend

Summer's brutal heat brings with it the dangers of skin-scorching sunburn, heartbreaking accidents, and deadly dehydration. Summer is also the time when travel season peaks, as people journey to various locations for rest and relaxation, to enjoy water activities, and take a "time out." Healthcare specialists from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston offer advice and tips to beat the heat and stay safe this summer.

"Don't push it too hard due to the soaring temperatures we are seeing this summer," said N. Bradley, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. "When possible, stay inside your air-conditioned homes or go to places that have A/C."

His tips:

  • Drink plenty of water - the amount of water people should drink depends on how much water they are losing through sweat and other sources. Bradley suggests people who do not have kidney failure should drink at least a pint per hour if outdoors and during heavy exertion in hot weather.
  • Do not drink alcohol, which accelerates dehydration.
  • Drink water throughout the day, even when you are not thirsty. Healthy people should drink one pint per hour.
  • If you notice someone acting confused and they have been out in the hot sun, seek help immediately and call 911.
  • Bradley also suggests you be alert to the symptoms of heat-related illnesses such as cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
  • Heat cramps are painful, brief muscle cramps that occur during exercise or work in a hot environment. The cramps are usually felt in the calves, thighs, abdomen, or shoulders.
  • Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is not able to maintain normal functions because of the excessive loss of body fluids and salts. In effect, the body is trying to protect itself from a greater rise in body temperature. The symptoms include: heavy sweating, intense thirst, dizziness, nausea, and a weak or rapid pulse.
  • Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency. It is the result of the body's inability to regulate its core temperature. As the body's water and salt supplies dwindle, its temperature rises to extreme levels. The symptoms include: a body temperature above 104 degrees (although heat stroke can occur at lower body temperatures), disorientation, confusion, or coma. The skin may be hot and dry or sweaty.

Overexposure to the sun can damage the skin, causing painful sunburns and heat rash. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, ultraviolet (UV) radiation is considered the single largest environmental contributor to skin cancer. "Minimize your exposure in the sun during the hottest hours of the day, which are usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.," said Adelaide Hebert, M.D., professor of dermatology at UT Medical School at Houston. The rates of skin cancer in the United States have significantly increased; over a million new cases are diagnosed each year. Melanoma is now the second most common cancer in women ages 20-29.

Hebert offers the following advice if you are going to be in the sun:

  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Wear protective tightly woven clothing and hats.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses to protect eyes.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours if you have sweated or been exposed to water, wind or high altitudes.
  • Protect your lips, ears, and tops of your feet.

Brent R. King, M.D., professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at UT Medical School at Houston, stresses the importance of supervision of minors and inexperienced swimmers. "Young children can drown in just a few minutes, so the supervising adult should pay full attention to the swimmers," King said. "However, supervision can be ineffective if those watching the swimmers do not know how to swim or safely rescue a drowning person."

Basic water safety and lifesaving classes are available through the American Red Cross, the YMCA, and other organizations, King said, and everyone should learn basic CPR. King provides the following water safety tips:

  • Designate a responsible adult, who will not be involved in any other distracting activity, to watch young children.
  • Always swim with a buddy. Select swimming sites that have lifeguards whenever possible.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before or during water activities or while supervising children swimming.
  • Learn to swim.
  • Constant and careful supervision and barriers such as pool fencing are necessary even when children have completed swimming classes. Do not use air-filled or foam toys in place of U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets (personal flotation devices). Toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
  • Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous.
  • Watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents. If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore; once free of the current, swim toward shore.

Pre-travel planning is important to ensure safe and healthy travel. "Travelers, especially those with chronic illnesses, should take precaution and locate travel clinics and medical facilities ahead of time in the area they plan to visit. It is also important for travelers to pack a mobile personal pharmacy," said Herbert DuPont, M.D., professor and director of The Center for Infectious Disease at The University of Texas School of Public Health. DuPont suggests building a medicine kit for the trip:

  • Place two sets of prescription and over-the-counter medications in two different pieces of luggage in original labeled containers.
  • Carry medications and a small first aid kit for common complaints that may arise, such as headaches, heartburn, cuts and scratches and colds.
  • Bring specialized items geared for travel to developing tropical or semi-tropical regions. Those include medication for treatment and possible prevention of traveler's diarrhea and malaria; antibiotics for infections; and compression stockings for lengthy air travel to reduce the risk of forming blood clots in the legs.
  • DuPont advises travelers to use caution while eating and drinking in developing regions of Latin America, Southern Asia, and Africa. Safe foods include those served steaming hot, carbonated drinks, those containing high amounts of sugar (such as syrups, jellies, jams), dry items (such as bread), and any item that has been peeled. Potentially unsafe foods include those served with moisture at room temperature and fruits and vegetables served with intact skins, DuPont said.

Whether you are attending a party, cookout, or an evening at the game, many people think of summer as a "time out" from normal routines and they tend to drink more, according to UT School of Public Health associate professor Scott Walters, Ph.D.

Unfortunately, people are also more likely to experience drinking-related problems during the summer, such as hangovers, assaults, and intoxicated driving. Walters advises people to be careful with not only how much they're drinking, but also how they drink.

"Our research has suggested that people can reduce the amount of problems they encounter by adopting simple drinking strategies to slow or spread out their drinking," Walters said. Here are some tips from Walters:

  • Decide ahead of time how many drinks you will have or when you will stop drinking.
  • Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Avoid doing "shots" of liquor.
  • Drink plenty of water and put extra ice in your drink.
  • Don't mix different types of alcohol.
  • Drink slowly, rather than gulp or chug, and don’t try to keep up with other's drinking.
  • Eat before or during drinking.
  • Keep track of the number of drinks.

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