The kids are out of school and we all get to sleep in – a bit. A shady parking spot is suddenly a precious commodity and slacks and a Polo shirt are as dressed up as I get.
When I think summer, I think heat and heat-related illness. In Phoenix, you can get heat exhaustion just walking down your driveway to pick up your morning paper. Heat-related illness spans a range from mere inconvenience to a 911 emergency call.
At its mildest, heat-related illness can resemble the flu. You are a little nauseated, feel sweaty and tired, and perhaps have developed a headache. Your skin is wet and salty, and your clothing is soaked.
Welcome to heat exhaustion, the first stage of heat-related illness. You just want to lay down in the shade, drink something cool and rest. All good advice, and if followed will allow you to fight another day.
Push it further at your personal peril. At some point the combination of your warm-blooded internal furnace, stoked with muscular exertion, and being unable to radiate or dissipate heat fast enough, results in heat stroke. This is a true medical emergency and you are too sick to even know you’re in trouble.
Your body has surrendered, you are not even sweating, and your skin is hot and dry. As your body temperature climbs you become delirious. Perhaps you remember the troubled dreams of a fevered childhood illness.
Call the paramedics, and while you are waiting, take the person to a cool place, lay them down, wet their clothing, and fan them. If they are alert enough, some sips of water is a good idea, but choking a delirious patient on water seldom improves their lot.
Those are the exciting heat illnesses, but more commonly an old-fashioned sunburn will ruin your week. It doesn’t take long in most parts of the country when the summer sun tracks high across the sky.
Ultraviolet radiation is the culprit, and for all our experience with sun and sunburns, we still don’t use sunblock very effectively.
Our usual preparation for a day outside at the lake is putting a light layer of No. 50 sunblock on and immediately jumping into the water. It did say waterproof and No. 50, so that should be enough. Wrong on both fronts.
Sunblock needs to bind with the skin to work, so apply it 30 minutes before going in the sun or in the water. And waterproof means it won’t all wash off in the first 10 seconds. Sunblock does wash off, sweat off, and wear off.
It gets used up by the ultraviolet radiation it absorbs and it doesn’t really matter if you buy SPF 15 or 50; reapplying every few hours is what actually keeps you out of trouble. Some light cotton clothing is portable shade, and you don’t need to remember to reapply.
The best treatment for sunburn is fluids and ibuprofen. Unfortunately, all the aloe cream will only moisturize the dead layers of skin. You will peel slowly, and less noticeably, instead of all at once. There is not resurrection for cooked skin.
Summer is also the season of trauma – both large and small. As we push our winter softened bodies to the next level of activity we discover that we really should have acted on that New Year’s exercise resolution.
In the meantime, this is another reason for keeping the ibuprofen handy, and some ice. Most minor injuries of the muscular variety respond to ice, an ace wrap, and your favorite pain medication. The injuries should heal quickly. And if they don’t, get in to see somebody for a quick X-ray and check it out.
The summer always holds the echo of glorious long days of leisure, and no tests or assignments for months. It’s harder to pull off as an adult, but grab the sunblock and Gatorade – it will help you find your inner child.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona center.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /