By SMH Trauma Coordinator Leann Putney
How lucky are we to live near so many beautiful beaches? A trip to the beach should be fun, but there are some safety risks to consider. Taking a few easy precautions to avoid injury will ensure your beach days are always fun.
Take an umbrella to the beach, and stay in the shade whenever you can—especially when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Even in the shade, the sun’s reflected rays can cause skin to burn, so always wear sunscreen, a hat, and protective clothing. Be sure you apply sunscreen liberally at least 20 minutes before sun exposure for maximum effectiveness—don’t forget those often-missed areas: ears, scalp, lips, neck, tops of feet and back of hands—and reapply at least every two hours and after swimming.
If you do get a minor sunburn, acetaminophen or ibuprofen and cool showers or baths can help relieve the discomfort. Seek medical attention for any severe sunburn covering more than 15 percent of the body or if you experience dehydration, fever higher than 101 degrees, or extreme pain lasting longer than 48 hours.
A great way to cool down on a hot summer day is taking a dip in the water, but be sure to keep an eye out for rip currents. Rip currents, or rip tides, are narrow channels of fast-moving water that can move at speeds up to eight feet per second—faster than an Olympic swimmer!
Several clues can help you spot a rip current. Look for areas of darker water where waves do not break, flanked by areas where waves are breaking as they might indicate a rip current. It may also have a dirty or muddy appearance from sand being washed away from the beach, or you may be able to see water or seaweed rapidly streaming away from the beach.
Often, people panic when they find themselves being pulled out to sea and try to swim straight back to shore, putting themselves at risk of drowning from fatigue. Rip currents do not pull you under water, only further away from the shore, and they will eventually stop.
If you are caught in one, stay calm and focus on keeping afloat until you can break free from the current by swimming parallel with the shore until you are out of the current. After you are out of the current, swim at an angle—away from the current—toward the shore. If you are unable to reach shore, wave your arms and yell for help while staying calm and floating or treading water.
Watch Out for Wildlife
Another possible hazard that could be lurking in the water is marine life such as jellyfish, stingrays, and sea urchins or sharp shells. You can reduce your chances of injury by wearing protective water shoes and shuffling your feet in shallow water, a maneuver commonly known as the “stingray shuffle.” This sends vibrations that will scare away stingrays in the immediate vicinity.
If you do get stung by a stingray, get out of the water immediately. Very rarely do these stings cause an allergic or anaphylactic reaction, but they might, so seek medical attention immediately, especially if you experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, hives, wheezing or nausea.
Painful as this injury can be, treatment for stingray stings is easy: Soak the affected area in a bucket of water as hot as you can stand for 30 to 90 minutes to inactivate the venom, which should bring rapid pain relief. In the rare event that a part of a barb is left behind, head to the emergency room. Do not attempt to remove it yourself.
For jellyfish stings, stay calm and still to prevent any more venom from being released. Rinse the wound with liberal amounts of seawater, and then, if any stingers still remain, remove them with tweezers or by gently scraping them off with the edge of an ID or credit card. Rinsing with vinegar for at least 30 seconds has also been shown to inactivate the stinging cells. Heat or ice packs can help relieve the pain. Oral or topical antihistamines and calamine or lidocaine lotion can help relieve itching and discomfort.
Following these simple safety tips can help prevent some of the most common injuries that can ruin a day at the beach. If you find yourself need treatment for bites, stings or burns, stop by one of our six Urgent Care Centers, so you can feel better faster and get back to enjoying all the fun the Sunshine state has to offer.
Timesaver Tip: Sarasota Memorial Urgent Care Centers are open daily 8 am to 8 pm. Check in online or download the SMH Urgent Care app to save time and skip the ‘hurry up and wait.’
SMH Trauma Program Coordinator Leeann Putney has been registered nurse with Sarasota Memorial Hospital for the 28 years. Prior to joining the trauma team in 2015, she served as a critical care nurse, nurse educator, and Magnet Program co-lead. She received her Master of Science degree in Nursing from the University of South Florida, and lives in Sarasota with her husband and two active, teenage sons.