Health risks to avoid - now and always - Rick L. Stevens, FACHE

Summer is in full swing and we’re finally able to venture out of the house — responsibly, of course — to relax outdoors and enjoy family and friends now more than ever over the past two-and-half years, as the pandemic continues. But, as fun as summer can be, the season does carry some health risks.
I want to take this opportunity to share with you some healthy tips to keep in mind as you continue to navigate through the summer and into the future. Whether your plans include a long-awaited family reunion, or a well-deserved respite at the lake, beach or the mountains take a few moments to consider these safety tips regarding your eyes, the heat, using sunscreen, water safety and safe driving that will serve you well now and always for wellness and safety.

Protect Your Eyes
One of the most common misconceptions about wearing sunglasses is that they’re just a fashion statement, yet all medical experts agree that sunglasses with 100% UV protection are critically important to overall long-term eye health. One of the leading reasons why eye protection is important is to slow the progression of cataracts — when the lenses in our eyes become hard and cloudy. An increase in UV exposure can also result in scar tissue formation — called pinguecula or pterygium (growths on the eye’s clear covering over the white part of your eye). Exposure may also play a role in macular degeneration, a disease affecting the center of the retina that causes a decrease in vision.

It’s also important to wear sunglasses consistently year-round. There’s a common misconception that you only need to wear sunglasses in the spring and summer months, but you should really be wearing them year-round. Any time you’re outdoors or in the car and the sun is shining, your sunglasses should be on.

Heat, Humidity and Heatstroke
Summer heat requires a different “dress code.” Wear lightweight cotton and loose-fitting, light-colored clothes to help air circulate and allow your body to “breathe.” Clothes made with synthetic fabrics will also help keep you cool as they wick the moisture from your body. The early morning hours are the best time to exercise and work on your outdoor to-do list. The hottest time of the day is between noon and 4 p.m.
On hot and humid days, replenishing your body’s fluids is a must to prevent dehydration or heat exhaustion. Spending too much time in the hot sun can be dangerous, especially for adults 65 and older. Heat-related illnesses, such as heatstroke, occur when the body is no longer able to stay cool. People 65 and up account for the most heat-related hospitalizations because they cannot adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature, making them especially vulnerable in hot temperatures.

With that in mind, it’s important to know warning signs of heatstroke. While it presents in
younger adults as clammy hands or a dry mouth, symptoms in older adults include:
 Delayed or reduced sense of thirst
 Lack of perspiration
 Change in behavior
 Inability to concentrate
 Fainting

Pick the Right Sunscreen
Regardless of how you enjoy the warm months, it’s always important to protect your skin from the sun’s rays year-round. First and foremost, always look for sunscreen that’s labeled “broad spectrum” or mentions that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays cause sunburn and increase our risk of skin cancer, while UVA rays mainly contribute to skin damage that ages us, like wrinkles and leathery texture. The second thing to look for is the SPF level — this is how much longer it will take untanned skin to redden with the sunscreen than without it. For instance, when wearing SPF 30 sunscreen, it’ll take 30 times longer for your skin to burn than with no sunscreen at all. Values between 30 and 50 will offer adequate protection. You should be using a quarter teaspoon of sunscreen on your face and about an ounce — approximately one-shot glass worth — for the rest of your body. If using spray-on sunscreen, apply two layers.

Water Safety
In the “dog days of summer,” it’s refreshing to spend a day at the pool. But there can be consequences to fun, warm-weather activities if you don’t take proper safety precautions for you and your children. It’s important to keep in mind drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children ages 1 to 4. When boating and kayaking, life jackets are at the core of safety and required by Missouri law on all personal water crafts.

Driving Safety
It’s truly alarming to learn that at any given daylight moment across America,
approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or electronic devices while driving, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Summertime means even more travel to get away spots, so when you’re behind the wheel — whether alone or with passengers — driving safely should always be your top concern. We’re more distracted than ever, so it’s crucial to know the basics of safe driving and practice them every time you’re on the road. I share all of this information with your good health, wellness and best interests in mind. In medicine, the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds continues to prove true and can save you money and your life,

Until next time, enjoy your summer — and stay healthy!

Rick L. Stevens, FACHE
Christian Hospital President

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