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VA Maryland Health Care System's Summer Health Tips

Summertime brings outside games, yard work, camping, swimming, trips to the beach, and long bike rides beneath the summer sun. Health care providers at the VA Maryland Health Care System say staying healthy in summer requires more than eating the right foods.

(Vocus) June 16, 2010 -- Summertime brings outside games, yard work, camping, swimming, trips to the beach, and long bike rides beneath the summer sun. Health care providers at the VA Maryland Health Care System say staying healthy in summer requires more than eating the right foods. “In the heat of all the fun, it's important to pay close attention to your body and to the environment to avoid hidden dangers,” says Dr. Mark Olszyk, deputy chief of staff for the VA Maryland Health Care System. “Staying hydrated maintains the fluid balance in our bodies,” says Valerie Adegunleye, clinical nutrition manager at the health care system. Also, those with asthma and other respiratory problems need to pay attention to air quality warnings, carry their medications and keep their inhalers on hand. Below is a partial list of summer health tips to stay healthy and cool during the long dog days of summer.

1.   Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration:
Average adults lose more than ten cups of fluids daily, through sweat, breathing, and eliminating waste in addition to electrolytes that maintain the fluid balance in our bodies-- so it's up to the individual to restore them!

How do I know if I'm dehydrated?

-   Thirst: Did you know that when you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated?
-   Urine color: The color of your urine tends to be the best gauge of your hydration status. A clear to light yellow color usually indicates that you're well hydrated, while a dark yellow or amber color is a good predictor of dehydration.
-   Dry or sticky mouth
-   Headache
-   Dizziness/lightheadedness
-   Weakness
-   Muscle cramps
-   Feeling of tiredness

Note: Feeling any of the above symptoms means you're already dehydrated, so don't wait for the signs to hydrate! Experiencing severe dehydration signs such as vomiting, low blood pressure, sunken eyes, fever, extreme thirst, little or no urination or lack of sweating may require medical assistance.

What should I hydrate with?

-   Water: The beverage of choice if you are outside sweating for less than 60 minutes.
-   Sports Drinks: If you are sweating for more than 60 minutes you may require a sports drink to replenish electrolytes. However, check with your doctor to see if this is appropriate for you, as some electrolytes can be detrimental to people with certain medical conditions.
-   Food: Believe it or not, establishing a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables that have a high fluid content also contributes to about 20% of your body’s fluids (the remaining 80% is from beverages). This may include lettuce, watermelon, broccoli, grapefruit and apples, just to name a few.

What should I avoid?

-   Caffeine: Caffeinated beverages like soda, coffee or tea, may have a mild diuretic effect, depending on the caffeine level.
-   Alcohol: It is also smart to avoid alcoholic beverages which have a diuretic effect, causing your body to lose water.

As a rule of thumb, be proactive about hydrating yourself to avoid the first and most common sign of dehydration: thirst. Drink before you venture out into the heat, during your activities (which includes sunbathing!) and after to constantly replenish your fluid stores.

2.   Avoid courting heat illnesses.

Heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion and life threatening heat stroke can develop well after becoming dehydrated and happens when the body’s cooling mechanism is overloaded and unable to regulate its temperature. Those most prone to heat illnesses are the elderly, children and infants, and people with high blood pressure.

How do I know if I’m developing a heat illness?

-   Symptoms: cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, muscle cramps, heavy perspiring, sometimes vomiting, weaknesses and dizziness, dry mouth and a headache are all symptoms of heat exhaustion. The more serious heat stroke can occur within 15 minutes of the first symptoms, which include very high body temperature, hot, dry, red skin, no sweating, dizziness, confusion, hallucinations, or loss of consciousness.

What do I do if I’m developing a heat illness?

-   Get out of the sun: Getting into a cool place, loosening clothing, drinking caffeine-free liquids, taking a cool shower, bath or sponge bath and resting can alleviate heat exhaustion but a heat stroke is a medical emergency. Call for medical assistance and try to cool down rapidly with cool water. Do not drink any fluids. Call a hospital emergency room for further instructions if medical assistance is delayed in responding.

3.   Protecting your skin from the sun’s UV radiation:

By now, everyone knows that sunscreen is a must. Few people use enough sunscreen, and not all sunscreens are created equal. Some may actually increase cancer risks, and their effectiveness drops when under-applied, meaning that a sunscreen with an SPF label of 100 performs like one with a SPF of 3.2, and a SPF 20 rating drops down to a 2.3, etc. Also scientists say SPF claims above 50 aren’t reliably substantiated. Moreover, sunscreen products aren’t regulated, so some existing products overstate claims about performance and offer inadequate UVA protection.

Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before going out into the sun, and then reapply every 2-3 hours- or sooner if sweating or if going in the water (even if it says it’s waterproof!).

-   What to avoid and what to look for in a good sunscreen?

Avoid: Avoid ingredients such as Oxybenzone Vitamin A, which is a retinyl palmitate,(listed in 41 percent of sunscreens) added insect repellents, sprays, powders and SPF above 50+

Use: Products with zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX in creams. Water-resident products with broad-spectrum protection are great for the beach, pool and exercise and look for SPF 30+

-   What to do before applying sunscreen?

Avoid getting burned: Red, sore, blistered, then peeling skin is a clear sign of too much sun. Sunburn increases risk for skin cancer.

Use clothing: Shirts, hats, caps, shorts, pants, shield skin from the sun’s UV rays. Instead of coating the skin with goop, a long sleeve shirt is more effective.

Use shade: Take advantage of shade trees, umbrellas and canopies. Sunglasses are a must to protect eyes from UV radiation which causes cataracts.

Plan ahead: Go outside in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky, rather than in the middle of the day when the UV peaks around midday and when the sun is directly overhead.

To speak to dietitians at the VA Maryland Health Care System, or Dr. Mark Olszyk, deputy chief of staff, please contact Rosalia Scalia at 410.605.7464 or via cell phone at 410.736.8444.

The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to veterans at two medical centers, one community living & rehabilitation center and five outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 52,000 veterans from various generations receive care from the VAHMCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, the VAHMCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in veterans’ health care, research and education. It costs nothing for Veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a Veteran can do. For information about VA health care eligibility and enrollment or how to apply for a VA medical care hardship to avoid future copayments for VA health care, interested Veterans are urged to call the Enrollment Center for the VA Maryland Health Care System, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7324 or visit

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