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There isn't much that can beat the feeling of leaping into some nice cold water on a hot, Florida summer day.  Whether you love to go to the beach, the backyard swimming pool, or one of our numerous local creeks or springs, Bay County and the surrounding areas are perfect for fun in the sun.  But sometimes, us locals forget how quickly that gorgeous sun can wreak havoc on our skin! Studies have shown that even 5 sunburns in the course of your life can increase your risk of skin cancer by nearly double, and extreme heat exposure is the leading weather-related cause of hospitalization or death! Read on for some helpful tips to keep you and your family safe from the sun's damaging rays, so you can enjoy our lovely weather sunburn and heat stroke free.

1.  Apply sunscreen ANYTIME you go outside.  Living in a tropical climate like Florida, the suns damaging rays can affect us at any point that we venture outdoors.  Sunblock isn't just for when you head out to the beach or pool!  Make it a part of your routine to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin before leaving the house for the day.  For adults, a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher is adequate, but keep in mind that children should be covered with SPF 30 or above.  The sun is strongest when directly overhead, usually between the hours of 10am and 2pm, so avoid direct exposure during those times to reduce your chance of burns.  Also, don't forget to reapply often, especially if you sweat or swim! And as an added benefit, your skin will stay youthful looking for years to come!   

2.  Dress appropriately!  Wide brimmed hats and a good pair of sunglasses are wonderful to assist in protecting your face and neck.  Swim shirts are widely available for kids who may not want to get out of the water every hour or so to reapply sunscreen.  These are made of a very lightweight, breathable material, so they won't add any discomfort or make your child feel hotter. Make sure to always wear shoes or flip flops, as the ground absorbs heat all day long and can easily burn the sensitive soles of your feet.  And avoid walking your pets on concrete or asphalt during the hottest part of the day, as the pads of their paws are not well equipped to disburse heat effectively.

3.  Keep an eye on the heat index as well as the actual temperature.  The heat index tells you what it feels like outside when temperature and relative humidity are factored in together.  With our Florida humidity topping the charts at 90% or above for most of the summer, this is an important thing to keep track of when planning outdoor activities for the family.  For example, and actual temperature of 90 degrees may sound like perfect park weather, but when you factor in a humidity level of 85%, it can really feel like it's 106!  Try to save those strenuous outdoor activities for the early morning or late evening hours, when the sun is at it's lowest point.  If you have to be out and active during the hotter parts of the day, remember your sunscreen rules, and KEEP HYDRATED!!

4.  NEVER leave children or pets in the car unattended.  This one may seem like a no brainer, but we've all seen the stories at least once a year where a child or animal dies tragically from being left in a hot vehicle.  Even just a quick trip into a store can be damaging to someone left in a car, and cracking open the windows does not provide any heat relief.  Research has been done to show exactly how quickly the interior of a vehicle can become uninhabitable, and it's a lot faster than you may think!  A mere two minutes of direct sunlight can raise the temperature inside of an automobile by 15 degrees or more.  Be mindful that pets and small children especially can not regulate body temperature the same way a full sized adult can, and always plan accordingly!

 5. Know the warning signs!  The warning signs of sunburn are pretty obvious, with pink skin being your first indicator that it's time to take a break from the sunshine.  Heat cramps can be the first sign that your body is starting to get too hot on the inside, so be sure to massage the affected area, go inside or under shade, and drink small sips of water to alleviate the symptoms. Heat exhaustion is the next step in the process, and you may exhibit signs such as heavy sweating, weakness, nausea, dizziness or fainting.  If you or someone around you is expressing these complaints, move them into an air conditioned area as quickly as possible, loosed restrictive clothing, and cover as much skin as possible with cool, wet washcloths to bring down their temperature.  The final, most dangerous form of heat sickness is heat stroke.  The victim may show signs of delirium, severe headache, a fever of 103 or higher, dizziness, fainting, or complete loss of consciousness.  At this point, medical attention is required immediately!  

Of course, the best way to avoid experiencing any of these difficulties this summer is to use common sense, and to make sun safety a habit.  if you think it's too hot to go out that day, trust your instincts!  While it may be tempting to lay out for hours to achieve that golden tan, your health isn't worth it.  Invest in a great self tanning cream, lather on that sunscreen, and be sun smart, this year and every year!