Summer is a great time to be outdoors, enjoying the lush green of New England's lakes, forests, and mountains; but the season has its own dangers. Chief among them are heat stroke and sunburn, two potentially catastrophic conditions that can happen quickly, but can be prevented.
Heat stroke happens when the body gets too hot to be able to cool itself, and is related both to the heat and to the lack of hydration. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, dizziness, dry skin, and mental confusion and can progress to convulsions, unconsciousness, and even death. The best way to prevent the condition is to provide adequate hydration and watch one's electrolyte balance; salt tablets can help with that, as can orange juice and other juices with high levels of potassium. It also makes sense to cut back on one's activity level in extreme heat conditions.
If someone does develop symptoms of heat stroke, it's important to cool his or her body down immediately. Have the victim drink plenty of fluids, offer salt tablets, cool him or her down with water applied to the skin if possible, and keep the individual still. A person suffering from the beginnings of heat stroke may recover fairly rapidly given immediate attention, but anyone who has shown signs of heat stroke should be checked out by a competent medical professional; someone who appears to be in serious trouble is having a medical emergency and must be delivered to a medical facility as soon as possible.
Sunburn results from exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun; the symptoms may not appear until hours after exposure to the sun, so it's easy to get a serious sunburn and not realize it as it is happening. Symptoms include red and ultimately peeling skin and mild to severe pain of the affected area. Severe sunburns can actually result in second-degree burns, secondary infections, and dehydration, and in the most extreme cases, shock or even death.
The best treatment for sunburn is prevention. Wear a hat with a wide enough brim to protect your face and neck from direct exposure to the sun; wear protective clothing as well. Some sports outfitters such as Orvis actually carry outdoor clothing with specific SPF ratings.
A recent study discovered that traditional sunscreens are not as effective as previously thought. This may be because most sunscreens are protective against UVA but not UVB rays. New sunscreens on the market promise to protect against both types of ultraviolet rays, and can be reapplied; but it's still a good idea to protect yourself with your choice of clothing and to limit your exposure to the sun, along with using the new sunscreens.
If you do get a sunburn, apply aloe vera liberally, and protect the area from further sun exposure. If your sunburn leaves you feeling nauseous, headachy, or in severe pain, see a doctor immediately.
Summer holds the promise of adventure: hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing-a wealth of activities is available this time of year. And with a few sensible precautions, you can enjoy the pleasurable activities without any of the pain associated with exposure to the sun.
Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has written numerous articles for local and regional newspapers and for a number of Internet websites, including Tips and Topics. She expresses her opinions periodically on her blog, http://beyondagendas.blogspot.com