As summer heats up in Connecticut, the Department of Public of Health (DPH) is reminding residents to protect their health in the face of the sun, high temperatures and humidity. As we enter another heatwave, it’s a great time to brush up on some sun and heat safety tips.
The State of Skin Cancer in Connecticut
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually. Melanoma, responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths and the most common cancer among adults 20-30 year-olds, is not a stranger to the state of Connecticut.
From 2001 to 2005, the incidence of new cases of melanoma was 31 percent higher here than the national average and the 8th highest in the country. In 2009, New London County had the highest rate of melanoma diagnoses in Connecticut, 79 percent above the national average. Melanoma rates continue to rise in the state, especially among adolescent girls.
According to the state DPH, there were an estimated 930 cases of malignant melanoma diagnosed in 2009, and 100 deaths from the disease. Connecticut had the 17th highest melanoma death rate nationally from 2001 to 2005. Tolland County has the highest death rate in the state, 30 percent higher than the national average.
Cover Up To Stay Protected From Skin Cancer
Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet light is the most preventable risk factor for the disease. Sunburns are a major risk factor for the development of this type of cancer. A 2004 survey found that 43.1 percent of white adults in the state sunburned at least once the previous year, up from 33.3 percent in 1999.
Use broad-spectrum sunscreen on exposed skin. Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects you from both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. The American Cancer Society states that UVA rays contribute to early skin aging such as wrinkles, while UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns. While UVA rays play a role in some skin cancers, UVB rays are thought to cause most skin cancers.
The Connecticut DPH recommends looking for water-resistant sunscreen that contains zinc oxide as the active ingredient or as a blend with titanium dioxide. These mineral blockers are preferable to chemical absorbers. Products with endrocrine-disrupting chemicals, like oxybenzone, should be avoided.
According to David J. Leffell, M.D., professor of dermatology and surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, of less than 15 is unhelpful in terms of skin cancer protection. In UConn Health Center’s July Health enews, Robert Fuller, M.D., chief of Emergency Medicine, recommends wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Apply sunscreen a half hour before getting out in the sun. Reapply at least every two hours. Apply more sunscreen after swimming and sweating.
For those concerned about the chemicals in some sunscreens (and insect repellants) UConn dermatologist Meagen M. McCusker, M.D. offers natural, toxin-free alternatives here.
To additionally decrease exposure to the sun, wear sunglasses with 100 percent UVA/UVB protection, a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved clothing. Wear loose-fitting, tightly woven lightweight, light-colored clothing. Seek shade when UV rays are at their most intense, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“If you experience symptoms like fainting, dizziness, headache, flushed skin, or increased body temperature,” said Fuller, “you may have a heat illness and should find a cool, shaded place to rest and have a [non-alcoholic] drink as soon as possible.”
On average, healthy people should be drinking half their body weight in ounces of water per day. As the weather heats up, people should drink even more fluids, even if they are not very active. Often, by the time people feel the sensation of thirst, they are already dehydrated, so one should not wait until he or she is thirsty to drink.
Millions of Americans try to quench their thirst with soda, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks, which actually have dehydrating agents. Water is the purest way to hydrate your body—throw a splash of lemon, lime or cucumber in it to add some extra zest.
The DPH recommends that people who exercise drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of a cool beverage each hour. Heavy sweating results in the loss of water, salt and minerals from the body. Unfortunately most of the sports drinks on the market are full of high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar and artificial colors. According to LIVESTRONG.COM, very high levels of sugar in the blood—which can occur in diabetics and people with an infection, certain organ diseases or who are taking certain medications—can also be dehydrating.
For a healthy sports drink alternative that works to balance the harmful stress hormones that rise during anaerobic workouts and to replace lost electrolytes, check out this homemade Adaptogenic Sports Drink recipe from Empowered Sustenance.
When you take a dip in a pool or lake to cool off from the heat, remember that swimming is exercise too. ““Don’t overestimate your ability and get too far out in a lake or ocean,” said Fuller, “and always hydrate just as you would if you were doing an activity on land.”
More High Heat and Sun Safety Tips
With this week’s high temperatures the DPH is urging all those who work outdoors or in other hot environments to learn to recognize and protect themselves from heat stress. Over the last 10 years, approximately 30 workers were treated in Connecticut emergency departments each year for heat-related illnesses.
“Heat stress can severely impact a person’s health to the point where they need to seek emergency medical care, or even death, Workers and employers should take steps to learn how to recognize the signs of heat stress and how to protect themselves,” DPH Commissioner Dr. Jewel Mullen said in a statement on June 24.
The elderly, children and those with underlying health conditions or taking certain medications are at greatest risk for heat stress and heat stroke.
“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are entirely preventable,” said Mullen.
Prevention actions at work include:
• Take frequent breaks away from direct sunlight during strenuous activities, especially ones that take place outdoors
• Schedule physically demanding work during the cooler parts of the day
• Provide cooling fans and moisture-wicking clothing to help employees keep cool
• Work with a partner who can keep alert for signs of heat stress
• Stay hydrated with cool, non-alcoholic beverages (Avoid extremely cold beverages, as they may cause stomach cramps. Consult a doctor if fluid intake is medically monitored.)
• Avoid unnecessary exertion when possible
• Seek an air-conditioned environment when possible
• Take a cool shower or bath to lower your body temperature
The UV Index predicts the risk of overexposure to UV rays on a 1-15 scale. Higher levels indicate a greater risk of exposure. The index is a good guide for how much caution to take during exertion while working, exercising or playing outdoors. Go here to check the UV Index for cities across the U.S. for the day.