Staying healthy in the heat

Appeared in: LaCrosse Tribune

By: Jessica Larsen

Published on: 06/09/12

With temperatures expected to reach the 90s this weekend, out will come the sandals, shorts and beach gear.

And just as predictably come the warnings from health experts about the dangers of sun and high temps.

"Temperatures rise quickly in the direct sunlight," said Dr. Scott Turner in Winona Health's Emergency Room. "Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can progress rapidly, and it clouds your judgement."

So follow these tips from Coulee Region health experts to stay safe in the warm weather:

Under the sun

You wouldn't go outside in a Wisconsin winter without a jacket, so you shouldn't go outside in a Wisconsin summer without sunblock, said Dr. Stephen Webster of the Gundersen Lutheran Dermatology Department.

"Look around and realize 20 percent of the people you're looking at will have skin cancer sometime in their life," he said. "For the most part it can be treated, but it still requires surgery and removal. People need to just be aware of the possibility."

Some of the best ways to scale back the risk skin cancer and aging skin is through sunblock and protective clothing.

Use an SPF between 30-50. Anything above 50 doesn't add much more protection. Put it on even if you're going out for a noon walk during work or are gardening outside afterward.

If you really want to be safe, wear pants, long sleeves and a hat with a three-inch brim all the way around it to guard the upper cheeks and ears.

The sun is most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. So try not to be under direct sunlight between those hours.

Protecting your feet

Sandals are comfy in hot weather, but most don't provide much support and walking in them can cause inflammation of the heel, said podiatrist Michael Quinn at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

That pain ranges from a sharp pain and limp while walking to the need for special support or physical therapy.

It's best to take the extra time and slip on some shoes with better support, he said.

Don't forget to apply sunscreen to the feet, too. And don't go barefoot in public places to avoid warts and athletes foot.

Protecting your eyes

Some experts argue there's a link between UV radiation exposure and cataracts and retinal problems, but it hasn't been proven, said

Dr. John Sterling, in Gundersen Lutheran's Optometry Department.

Still, it's a good idea to wear sunglasses whenever you're squinting, or if you're around water or sand or at high altitudes.

When picking out the perfect pair of sunglasses, make sure it has a label that shows it was approved by the American National Standards Institute. It wouldn't hurt to have side eye protection, too, instead of just the front of the eyes.

All other details like color and style are up to the wearer.

Hydration and heat

The eight glasses of water a day rule is more important than ever during summer, said Dr. Ben Wedro at Gundersen's Trauma and Emergency Center.

You'll need a lot more fluids depending on the amount of activity and humidity. A person working hard outside loses up to two liters of sweat an hour.

There's no magic number on the amount of water you need, Wedro said. "Just listen to your body. Drink what feels right," he said.

If you start to feel light-headed or weak, you might be dehydrated. Or if the body is producing less or more concentrated urine.

If so, take a break from the heat and get a cool drink of water.

At the pool

Put on sunscreen 30 minutes before you hit the pool and re-apply it every two hours.

Don't worry about the rule that says no swimming for 30 minutes after you eat, unless you will be swimming hard or competing, said Christine Berth, public health nurse with the La Crosse County Health Department.

"If you just jump in and play, it's not as much of a factor," she said.

All those bugs

Outdoor lovers should always be on the lookout for pesky mosquitoes and ticks, Berth said. But apply repellent only once a day, and be sure to wash it off once you return inside.

Michael Quinn, DPM, graduated from the California School of Podiatric Medicine (CSPM), formerly known as California College of Podiatric Medicine (CCPM), in 1996.


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