We’ve all heard about “heat stroke” or “heat exhaustion” but what is it really? Heat stroke describes a condition where the core body temperature rises to excess temperature up to 105 degrees usually because either the individual can’t regulate their body temperature because of certain medical conditions or because of the medications they’re taking, or because they’re physically unable to get out of a very hot environment. Typically it happens to either very young people or older people. It can also happen in young otherwise healthy people who engage in strenuous activity during periods of very high temperatures such as athletes or military recruits. The high temperatures can cause central nervous system, liver, kidney, lung and muscle damage.
Symptoms are rapid breathing, headache, weakness and fatigue, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, and in severe cases seizures, and confusion. The prescription for avoiding heat stroke is to stay out of direct sunlight and avoid strenuous activity in very hot weather, wear light colored or lightweight clothing, drink plenty of cool liquids avoiding alcohol or caffeine which can cause dehydration. Cool showers or baths are helpful. Avoid sponge baths with alcohol because the skin changes that occur in the heat can cause increased absorption of the alcohol can cause toxicity. Check up on seniors at least twice a day to ensure they’re okay because they don’t adjust well to sudden changes in temperature. If the symptoms worsen or are severe, it’s best to get to an Emergency Department. Don’t ignore the symptoms because the mortality rate of heat stroke can be quite high. Every year at least 400 people die from heat stroke alone.
Let’s switch gears a bit: July is UV (Ultra Violet) safety month, and I’d like to say a couple of things about this. All of us are susceptible to skins cancer, even those of us with darker skin! While it’s true that people with fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes are at higher risk for developing skin cancers, it also occurs in brown skinned people. In fact there is data to suggest that when people of African & Caribbean descent get skin cancer we have a higher mortality from it especially from a type of skin cancer known as melanoma. This may be because it is usually detected at a later stage, because we don’t look for it, so outcomes in our community are typically worse. It’s important to check for moles, spots, or freckles in our palms/soles/mouth. Anything that seems to increase in size, or change in color should be checked out. Also sun exposure doesn’t only affect the skin, but can affect our vision by increasing the risk of cataracts and retinal damage and decrease the functioning of our immune system as well. It is important to note that tanning is a form of skin damage as well, and that UV exposure can raise skin cancer risk even without causing sunburn. Certain drugs such as antibiotics, sulfa containing medications, and medications used to treat acne can increase sun sensitivity, and you should check with your doctor to see if you’ll need extra protection in the sun because of medications you’re taking.
So how do we protect ourselves?
1. Check the UV index which is a measure developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Weather Service of 1-11 that measures the UV radiation hitting the earths surface, or measure of the sun’s strength during an hour around noontime. The higher the number, the higher the UV radiation, and the more precautions we‘ll need to take in the sun. Remember that cloudy weather doesn’t protect you. Go the EPA website, www. Epa.gov to check. If it’s high stay in the shade between the hours of 11-3, and use clothing that will protect you from the sun ie: wide brimmed hats, long sleeve shirts/pants
2. Use sunscreen with a SPF (which stands for Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15, which means that 15 minutes in the sun with SPF of 15 is the same as being out in the sun for one minute totally unprotected. You should apply it 15-30 minutes before you’re going to be exposed to the sun. Check to see if it is water resistant or waterproof. Waterproof sunscreen confers more protection and doesn’t come off easily in the water. And also check the expiration dates and throw it out if it’s past the date as it won’t be protective anymore.
3. Use sunglasses that block UV rays, and look for a label stating that it’s protective. Look for labels that block 99-100% of UVA & UVB rays. If there’s no label, assume there’s no protection. The protection comes from a chemical that’s applied to the lens, not the color or darkness of the lens. Cosmetic sunglasses only protect against 70% of UV rays.
Stay cool, and protect that beautiful skin of yours.