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A day in the sun has its perils

SUNBURN

Sunburn tops the list of beach perils. A single baking can damage the skin enough to cause skin cancer years after the burn. Fair-skinned people are especially at risk.

PREVENTION

Don't bake. Tan gradually, if you must. Limit exposure during the first few days of the season. Avoid midday sun. Always use sunblock or sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15. Fair-skinned people should use at least SPF 30. Look for these effective chemicals among the contents: paba esters, cinnamates and benzophenones. Overprotect infants. Invest in a floppy hat and beach umbrella.

TREATMENT

Cool baths and wet compresses relieve pain. Elevate burned arms or legs. Drink plenty of water. If you have a rash, chills, fever, weakness, dizziness, nausea or your eyes burn, seek medical aid immediately. Likewise if blisters become infected. Be on guard for signs of heatstroke - red, hot and dry skin, extremely high temperature, no sweating, rapid pulse, disorientation, convulsions and unconsciousness. If you suspect heatstroke, seek medical aid immediately - call 911. Body temperature must be lowered at once. Wrap the individual in cold towels; spray with hose if necessary.

JELLYFISH AND MAN-OF-WAR

Jellyfish give swimmers a short-term, irritating sting. Far more severe is the Portuguese man-of-war, which is not a jellyfish but looks like one. The man-of-war, indigenous to the Atlantic, is purplish in color and releases an acidic venom that can cause great pain, shock and even death. Swimmers may brush against such creatures and their trailing tentacles. The man-of-war's acid can remain toxic even when the creature has washed ashore.

TREATMENT

Rinse skin with sea water, not tap. Remove remaining tentacles with gloved hands or a fork. Don't handle them. A jellyfish sting is generally a short-term irritant that can be treated with a topical anesthetic such as Solarcaine, Foille or Dermaplast. Man-of-war burns may be neutralized with full-strength vinegar, rubbing alcohol or a paste made of plain meat tenderizer. (Because children have tender skin, do not apply meat tenderizer to the sting for longer than 10 minutes.) Man-of-war victims must be watched closely for signs of shock. Because it is not always possible to identify the kind of jellyfish, the stronger man-of-war antidotes can be used just to be on the safe side. Victims should be kept out of the sun until their pain subsides.

LIGHTNING STRIKES

Lightning is the second-biggest weather killer, next to floods. More than 8 million strikes a day occur worldwide, most in tropical areas or near water. The most deadly strikes occur in the afternoon.

PREVENTION

Take the first rumble of thunder as an early warning. Run from the water when you see the first bolt. Get in a car or a secure building. Lightning seeks the tallest objects, so don't be the tallest object on the beach and don't wait out the storm under a tree.

TREATMENT

Few people survive a direct lightning hit, because the bolt is hotter than the sun. Typically victims of an indirect hit will be knocked to the ground, possibly unconscious, sometimes burned. Lightning victims do not retain an electrical charge so they may be touched. Administer CPR is necessary, stop any bleeding and call 911.

SHARK BITES

Most sharks are not dangerous and will leave swimmers alone. On average, fewer than 75 shark attacks and 10 fatalities are reported worldwide each year. The deaths occur when people surf, swim or scuba dive where there are large sharks, such as the great white. Florida waters are populated by much smaller, less-aggressive sharks, typically, juvenile blacktip and spinner sharks.

PREVENTION

Watch for signs warning of sharks. Where there may be sharks, avoid murky waters. Never swim alone or at night. Avoid ocean swimming if you have cut yourself and are bleeding. Avoid waters where there are schools of small fish and where bait has been put out for fish. Don't swim wearing flashy jewelry. Most of Florida's shark attacks involve surfers; sharks can mistake their dangling legs and flailing arms for injured fish or seals. Divers and surfers encountering sharks swimming nearby should avoid sudden movement and swim slowly away.

TREATMENT

Stop the bleeding. Seek medical aid immediately. Call 911.

FRISBEES

Frisbees and other such disks are a lot of fun until you come face to face with one.

DANGER

Frisbees can catch nonparticipants by surprise and do some nasty damage, especially to an eye, according to a spokesman at Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach.

PREVENTION

Confine disk-throwing to wide open areas where everyone is participating in your catch-and-pitch game. If there's any possibility of the disk going into an area where someone is not paying attention, move still farther away. Frisbee-tossing can be most dangerous at a crowded beach. Don't, under any circumstances, hurl a Frisbee across a traffic lane.

TAR DEPOSITS

Yuck! It's possible to pick up the icky black goo on your feet just about anywhere on Florida's coastline.

They're unsightly, but such deposits are no real threat to health unless swallowed. Condo renters who track tar deposits on a carpet may have to forfeit a damage deposit.

CLEANING UP

Kerosene, mineral spirits or WD-40 work best.

RIP CURRENTS

A rip current is a narrow channel of water flowing seaward from a beach through breaking waves in the surf zone in the Atlantic and the Gulf. They are also known as riptides, runouts or washouts. They are not undertows, an effect found in waters where the sea floor drops off severely close to shore. Rip currents can carry swimmers far from shore, but they do not pull swimmers under the water. Swimmers may panic or become exhausted when they try to fight the current.

Indications of a rip current are sandy-brown discoloration and choppy, suppressed wave height in the surf. The rip current can be as narrow as 10 yards and as wide as 75 yards or more.

When you find it hard to return to shore while swimming in the surf and feel yourself being swept quickly away from shore, do not panic and fight the seaward pressure. It is best to swim parallel to the shoreline until free of the rip current, then swim to shore.

You can avoid rip current dangers by staying where you can touch the bottom. Also look for the signs of a rip current in the shore's waters.

- Rip currents are strongest after rough conditions subside. A storm at sea brings high waves that damage existing sandbars. For the next few days after a storm, the excess water rushes back out to sea, ripping channels through the sandbars. Rip currents are strongest from high tide to low tide.

- Nationwide, 80 percent of all beach lifeguard rescues involve rip current conditions. The Volusia County Beach Department uses a fleet of Yamaha Wave Runners to patrol more than 40 miles of shoreline. A basket is pulled behind the Wave Runner and alongside a swimmer in trouble; the swimmer can roll onto and grasp the shallow float as the lifeguard pulls him to safety

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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