STATE — As summer begins, the Department of Health and Senior Services reminds residents to have fun in the sun while taking steps to avoid sunburn and heat-related illness.
“Whether you’re at the beach, the park or a backyard barbecue, it’s important to take simple measures to protect your health,” said Acting Commissioner Dr. Tina Tan. “One easy step residents can take is using sunscreen regularly to reduce the risk of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States.”
Summer health risks include sunburn, and the long-term risk of skin cancer, as well as heat exhaustion and heat stroke – illnesses that can lead to immediate and severe health complications.
“Hot weather is particularly dangerous for the very young and the very old because they are more prone to heat-related illnesses,” Tan added. “If you have family or neighbors who are seniors, be sure to check on them when the temperatures rise to make sure they are hydrated and staying cool.”
Heatstroke occurs when the body loses the ability to cool itself. People can go from appearing normal to extremely ill in a matter of minutes. They may develop a high body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, very hot and dry skin, a rapid and strong pulse, and may become delirious or unconscious. Persons suffering from heatstroke need immediate medical attention.
Heat exhaustion is a milder illness that may take several days of high temperatures to develop. It occurs when the body’s water and salts are lost through perspiration and are not adequately replaced. Victims may have pale, clammy skin and sweat profusely. They may feel tired, weak or dizzy and have headaches or sometimes cramps, but their body temperature will remain close to normal. Heat exhaustion can be severe enough to require hospitalization.
Take the following precautions to avoid health complications from excessive heat:
- Drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic beverages throughout the day.
- If possible, reduce physical activity or reschedule it for cooler times of the day.
- Wear loose and light-colored clothing.
- When in the sun, be sure to apply sunscreen to all exposed skin and wear a hat or head covering.
- If you do not have air conditioning in your home, take advantage of any air-conditioned shelters such as libraries, movies, malls, schools or other publicly accessible buildings during the hottest hours of the day.
- Take care not to overdress children and to give them plenty of liquids to drink throughout the day. Children under age five, particularly those under age one, are especially sensitive to the effects of heat.
- Check on elderly relatives and neighbors to see if they need help taking proper heat precautions, or if they need medical attention because of the heat. Make sure individuals who are bedridden or have mobility problems have adequate fluids within easy reach.
- Don’t leave children, a frail elderly or disabled person or pets in an enclosed car — not even for a minute — as temperatures can quickly climb to dangerous levels.
- Talk to your health care provider about any medicine or drugs you are taking. Certain medications — such as tranquilizers and drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease — can increase the risk of heat-related illness.
It is also important to avoid sunburn, which can cause skin damage that accumulates over time and contributes significantly to the later risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types, called basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. But melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous.
People from all racial and ethnic groups can develop skin cancer, although those with lighter skin are at much greater risk, particularly of developing its most deadly form—melanoma. Every year in New Jersey, nearly 3,500 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed.
It is important to use sun protection even on cloudy or cool days as damaging sun rays can pierce clouds and burn the skin. To protect against sunburn, use a UVA and UVB sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater, and wear a hat with a four-inch brim that shades eyes, face and the back of the neck. Wearing sunglasses will protect the eyes from UV rays, protect the skin around the eyes and reduce the risk of cataracts.
If possible, wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, avoid outdoor activities during midday when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest, and stay in the shade whenever possible, whether under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter.
For more information on skin cancer, visit: http://www.nj.gov/health/ccp/melanoma.shtml.
For more information on heat-related illness visit:
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