Awareness, fluids key to beating the summer heat

LAWRENCEVILLE - The cure for the summertime blues could be as simple as plenty of fluid intake and using sunscreen.

With rising temperatures and the first day of summer right around the corner, children are hitting the swimming pools and playgrounds in flocks. But are they being safe?

Dr. Mathew W. Pombo, an orthopedic surgeon at Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth specializing in sports medicine, said many children and parents may not take appropriate precautions because they aren't aware of potential dangers.

He agrees with the old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

"Hydration is the key to all of this," Pombo said. "A lot of this happens at home and there are things they can do to prevent this."

Heat illnesses range in seriousness from mild to potentially fatal. They include heat fatigue, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and the most serious, heat stroke.

During exercise, Pombo said, the body's heat production can increase by as much as 20 percent. When heat is generated by the body faster than it can be dissipated, heat illnesss occurs. Most at risk are younger children and the elderly, but everyone can benefit from easing into summer, especially in Georgia's humid, subtropical environment.

"A big thing is acclimatization ... you have to get into it step-wise," Pombo said. "Spring is a great time for that when the temperatures are gradually climbing."

The following tips can help you stay safe in the sun:

· Modify outdoor exercise when it's really hot and humid outside.

· Drink plenty of fluids before and during outdoor activity. Water will normally suffice but sports drinks (not "energy" drinks) such as Powerade will replace electrolytes and carbs lost during prolonged, strenuous exercise.

· Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and apply it about 30 minutes before sun exposure. In addition to damaging skin, sun burns can facilitate dehydration.

· Parents should educate themselves on heat illnesses and aim to prevent them rather than treat them.