One of the simplest ways to escape the summer heat for a long weekend, or even an afternoon, is by heading to the beach.   The shores are a great way to enjoy some peace, pleasure and fun times.  However, there are some hazards associated with a visit to the beach that should be avoided.  Here are some of the most common hazards to watch out for that can turn your day of fun into an unpleasant emergency.

Sunburn
Spending too much time outside can expose a person to the sun for a prolonged period, increasing the risk of getting a sunburn.  Sunburns not only occur on sunny days, but can also occur on a cloudy or overcast day since the water and sand reflect the sunlight back onto you.

Hats and umbrellas are not the best method of prevention since some light can sneak through the material.  Sunscreen is better as it protects you from sunburns and skin cancer.  The best option, however, is prevention.  Avoid staying out in the sun for hours at a time.  In addition, avoid being out for long when the sun is strongest, between 10 am to 4 pm each day.

If your skin is already sunburnt, take a cool shower to sooth the burn then apply creams or gels designed to treat sunburns.  Some people opt to refrigerate the cream first so that it feels cooler when they apply it to their burnt skin, providing more immediate relief.  Ensure that you are staying adequately hydrated, and avoid the sun completely until the burn is healed.

Heat Exhaustion
This is perhaps the most dreaded mishap on a beach trip.  Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, dizziness, and generalized body weakness.  As soon as you start to experience these symptoms, drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated.  You may want to consider seeking medical attention if the symptoms persist or worsen.

Jellyfish Stings
Some jellyfish hang around the beach and can pose a serious threat to swimmers.  When there are jellyfish in the water, the best thing you can do is to avoid swimming completely.  If you are stung, make your way back to shore immediately.

Remove anything stuck on your skin and dry the area that was stung.  Some people choose to use home remedies such as vinegar to treat the area.  However, a better option would include visiting the lifeguard stand as they often have products designed to clean and numb the area to provide relief.

Water Hazards
Rip currents can carry swimmers away from the shoreline.  The United States Lifesaving Association reports that these currents cause over 100 fatalities annually, and lifeguards rescue about 50,000 swimmers caught in rip currents every year.  Many people underestimate the dangers of these currents.  It is best to prepare yourself in advance.

  • Ensure that you are near a lifeguard if possible.  Educate yourself ahead of time about the dangers of rip currents in your area.
  • If you find yourself in a rip current, remain calm.  Attempt to escape the current by swimming in a direction parallel to the shoreline.
  • If it is impossible to swim out of the current, float or tread water until the current weakens.
  • If you feel like you will not make it to the shore, try to get the attention of the lifeguard.

If someone appears to be drowning, inform the lifeguards.  If they are not nearby, attempt to move the person towards shore, assist him/her to remove the water in their mouth, and ascertain if the person is breathing.  If he/she is not breathing, check for a pulse.  If the person does not have a pulse, start CPR and administer it until the person starts breathing again or you are relieved by emergency personnel.

Perils of Swimming in Polluted Water
Certain health hazards are the result of swimming in polluted water.  Before going to a beach, check out the quality of the water to avoid becoming ill.  Most water-borne diseases are related to fecal contamination from human beings or animals.  When you swim in polluted water, you are more likely to get gastrointestinal diseases (such as diarrhea) and respiratory illnesses (such as colds, cough and ear/nose/throat problems).

Direct sewage drainage, sewage material coming from nearby drains and storm water overflow all affect the quality of coastal water.  The contamination of a beach depends on its proximity to local sewage release and the type of treatment used in that locality.

Weather can also contribute to water pollution.  For instance, after a heavy rainfall, the quality of water will drop significantly for the next 24-48 hours.  Because of this, you might want to consider avoiding the beach for two days after heavy rains.

Ensure that your beach has met the set standards of sewage management and water quality.  When you go to the beach this summer, remember that there are hazards to be cautious of and avoid.  As always, prevention is always better than a cure.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Jackie Borst, PA-C

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