“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy, when skies are gray.
You’ll never notice, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Growing up on St. Simons Island in the 70’s and 80’s, I have
quite a few memories that take place beginning with that rapturous moment
the school bell rang for the last time, heralding that summer had officially
begun. The days seemed endless, as summers do, but I knew that sooner
than later I would be trudging back to Belk, wasting a precious summer
afternoon to shop for back to school clothes. Therefore, I squeezed every
last enjoyable moment out of the upcoming summer vacation. Usually this
consisted of getting up much earlier than I ever would for school and
going fishing at Gould’s Inlet. I also spent much of my time tearing
around the island on my BMX bike with friends, only stopping intermittently
at Jack’s mini-mart for a peach Nehi, a sleeve of saltine crackers,
and a tin of BBQ Vienna sausages. Yummy.
At times, we would end up at someone’s house for an all day, sun
up to sun down, shirts vs. skins basketball tournament. Usually, as the
dog days of summer beat down on us pretty hard, we stopped for a water
break. Normally, the outside hose slaked our thirst, although we had to
wait an interminable amount of time ‘til the water ran lukewarm
to take a drink. However, one time my buddy, Marty, decided to press his
luck by asking his mom for cold drinks all around. When she answered the
door, cracking it just enough to see six sweaty, pre-teens, but not enough
to let any of the A/C out, she listened intently then closed the door.
We thanked Marty for an honest effort then made our way to the hose.
Just as we were about to take our first drink, the door opened again, and
Marty’s mom handed him a small tray with six small cups. When I
say small, I mean those diminutive Dixie cups with Star Wars pictures
on them. Each cup held one ice cube and a splash of soda. For a second,
we all just stared at our drinks; if we were older, someone would have
made a toast. Instead, we just slammed back the soda and headed back to
the hose for a long drink before one more game of twenty-one.
Now, during all those scorching summer days, I never really remember the
heat getting to me. If I was hot, I just found some shade and some cold
water out of a hose. For athletes, however, and even older individuals,
the hot humid days of South Georgia can be dangerous. When an individual
works or exercises outside, the body’s temperature is elevated and
the body sweats to cool itself down. During this process, fluid as well
as critical electrolytes are lost. If the body isn’t replenished
with fluids and electrolytes, dehydration may occur, increasing the risk
of heat illness.
During regular exercise, 70 to 90 percent of the energy our bodies produce
is released by heat. Many factors can hinder heat release and perspiration.
Environment. Air temperature and humidity can negatively influence the body’s
ability to release heat as sweat. High humidity prevents sweat from evaporating,
thereby retaining body heat.
Clothing. Dark clothing, pads and helmets absorb heat.
- Sun Exposure.
Fitness level/acclimatization. Before exercising in the heat, the body must acclimate for 7-14 days.
Pre-activity hydration status. Individuals that start exercising outside in the heat who are already
dehydrated are at a greater risk for heat injury.
- High body fat.
Medications. Diuretics, stimulants and many other medicines can affect a person’s
hydration status, placing them at increased risk for heat injury.
- Sickle trait.
There are many symptoms that need to be recognized as early red flags of
heat illness. Some of these include:
- Dry mouth
One of the earliest symptoms is, of course, thirst. Once you are outside
and start to become thirsty, you are getting behind the eight ball. Constant
hydration while outside is important to prevent heat illness.
The most effective treatment for heat-related illness is prevention, including:
Proper training for the heat. It doesn’t matter if the person outside is a teenage athlete conditioning
for football or a 65-year-old working in the yard. Proper time for the
body to acclimate to the heat must be given to prevent heat illness.
Fluid replacement before, during and after exertion. This means 16-24 ounces of water or sports drink one hour before going
outside and 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes. If the event is under an hour,
then water should be fine. An exercise event that takes place longer than
one hour will require a sports drink low in sugar or pedialyte to replenish
Early recognition of symptoms. Any symptoms as stated above are warning signs that indicate the need
to remove the player or one’s self from the heat and into the shade,
get cool rapidly by cold water immersion or spray from a hose, and providing
cool beverages. If medical assistance is needed, call quickly while continuing
to provide cooling techniques.
Being that we all live in Southeast Georgia and summer is just around the
corner, these recommendations are for the young and old. Having little
time for home projects, I am as guilty as anyone for staying outside much
longer than I should because I have only one day to get a three-day project
completed. Be cognizant of the time you spend outside and pay attention
to any symptoms you may experience. If these symptoms occur, get out of
the heat with a cold drink (no caffeine or alcohol) until the symptoms
subside. I am a big proponent of sports drinks over water because they
replenish electrolytes, and I think most people are willing to drink more
of them because they taste better than plain water.
Please be careful this summer, and buy your kids the big Dixie cups.