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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House call: Head into the summer sun, heat and lake with a plan for staying safe

Planning can help us enjoy the summer safely.  (Kaiser Permanente of Washington)
Dr. David Ward For The Spokesman-Review

Summer is my favorite time of year to get outside here in one of the most beautiful places on earth. There is so much Spokane has to offer, long days on the lake, gorgeous parks, hiking, Bloomsday, biking or Hoopfest. Whatever your plans, no one wants to spend a beautiful June day in the emergency room.

The emergency department brings up images of injuries from fireworks or trampolines (and those do happen), but the majority of summer safety issues are from heat, sun and water. A little awareness, alertness and planning can help us enjoy the summer safely.

Take the heat seriously

It’s easy to keep going when you are out having fun, but heat-related illnesses are serious, especially for children and older adults. Spokane has had a few extreme heat events over the last few years, but dehydration and heat exhaustion can also happen in moderate heat or with activity.

• Stay hydrated: Drink water or fluid with electrolytes, even if you aren’t thirsty. Especially when you are out for a long summer day, it’s easy to miss hydrating. Drink water before you are outside and throughout activity or exercise. Hydrating energizes your muscles, so you’ll get a performance bonus too.

• Plan for the heat: Think about the environment you will be in. Dehydration and heat exhaustion happen most in hot, humid environments like cars and public transportation, homes without air conditioning and at beaches or pools. Exercise in the cooler parts of the day, plan for hydrating when out and check in on neighbors and friends that might not have air conditioning.

• Pay attention to signs of heat exhaustion: Signs of dehydration include darker urine or less urine, dry mouth and sluggishness or fatigue, as well as mental fogginess or confusion. Heat exhaustion is a milder condition that can lead to heat stroke. If you feel nausea, fatigue, dizziness or muscle cramps, your body is sending a signal to stop what you are doing, go indoors, cool off and drink water right away.

• Know what to do for heat stroke: If you or someone else is experiencing confusion, no sweating, throbbing headache, dizziness, fainting or heart palpitations, seek medical attention right away. Heat stroke often starts with heat exhaustion symptoms, but it also can occur quickly, and it is a medical emergency. Call 911.

Soak up sun safely

Skin cancer is the most common cancer, but it’s also simple to protect yourself. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15-30, if not much higher, and apply it 15-30 minutes before going outdoors. It should be water resistant and re-applied frequently, at least every two hours. Here are a few less known sun protection tips:

• Use enough sunscreen: Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen to reach the label SPF, so apply liberally and thoroughly. The more you are swimming, sweating or exercising, the more often you need to reapply.

• Don’t forget your feet, ears and elbows: We see skin cancer just about everywhere on the human body, so take a minute to be thorough and slather up if you are wearing flip flops, hanging your arm out the car window or otherwise getting sun exposure that you might have missed.

• Protect your eyes: A good pair of UVA- and UVB-ray blocking sunglasses help protect from short term irritation and minimize future cataract development. Polarized lenses are good protection when you are near the water.

Drowning is a real risk

We love the water here in Spokane. But drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 years old and the number two cause of unintentional injury death for ages 5 to 14. For every person under age 18 that dies from drowning, another seven children receive emergency care for near drownings, which can lead to hospitalizations and serious health effects. Children are most at risk, but anyone can drown. We need to stay wide awake on the danger of drowning and how to prevent it.

• Learn to swim: The ability to swim and having water safety skills greatly reduce the risk of drowning. Eighty-five percent of Americans say they can swim, but only 56% can perform basic life-saving water safety skills like treading water and being able to jump in and resurface.

• Don’t rely on water wings: Pool toys and arm floaties can give a false sense of security and aren’t designed to keep a child afloat in an emergency. Children and adults should wear life jackets when around natural bodies of water.

• Keep a close watch and listen: Watch little children at all times and keep an eye on your friends and family in the water. Drownings can happen very quickly. People may not be able to scream for help, so watch for flailing arms and signs of distress. Even scarier, the drowning may be relatively silent and not predictable.

• Protect kids around pools: Most drownings of young children happen at residential swimming pools. Missing fences or barriers make it more likely for children to access a pool without supervision. Pool edges and diving are also hazards.

Limit screen time

Screen time for kids creeping up without the structure of school may not seem like a summer safety issue, but excessive screen time has health impacts on fitness, sleep, anxiety and depression. The average child spends 7 hours a day on electronic media! Here are a few tips for keeping that screen time down.

• Plan for screen-free time: Set a non-negotiable plan for screen-free time. Time without screens can move attention to other things like being outdoors, family or friends. It could be at meals, during a set play time or even a specific day of the week. It’s amazing how creative kids can get finding something else to do.

• Set healthy limits: Screen and electronic interaction are part of our lives, but you can set limits based on your child’s age and development. The American Academy of Pediatricians has guidelines that may help encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.

• Keep screens out of bedtime: Viewing blue light from screens is known to have a negative impact on sleep for children and adults alike. Come up with a plan for when the screens will be shut off and stick to it.

It’s easy to get excited by a gorgeous Spokane day and head out without water, sunscreen or a plan for staying safe, but a few simple preparations will help get the most out of our summers.