Summer camping – don’t you just love it! This is the time we have all been waiting for. To get away from the daily grind and enjoy outdoor life with friends and family while the sun shines. But, as always, you have to be aware of the hidden dangers related to those warming rays.
As campers we always think of weather extremes as wind and rain. After all, these have very visible effects on us and our gear. However, it should always be remembered that the sun has an equally aggressive attitude to those outdoors and you should be protecting yourself and your family from its effects.
Dehydration and UV-protection are key dangers and can lead to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, sun burn and skin cancer. Yet, while these are serious conditions and you should learn to recognise and treat symptoms, avoidance is simple common sense.
For a start, take a leaf out of our southern European cousins and take a mid-day siesta – after all, you are on holiday! Seriously, from around 11am to mid-afternoon is the hottest part of the day and you should ideally rest up in some shade. Make sure your children play in the shade with drinks on hand or regularly get them under shade for a drink. It is important to stay hydrated and simple water is best.
If not regularly replaced, the loss of salt and water can slowly lead to heat exhaustion so sip water regularly and take on salts through food like bananas and nuts. Look out for muscle cramps, headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, nausea, clammy skin… all symptoms of heat exhaustion. If anyone shows these symptoms then get them to remove excess clothes and rest in a cool place with plenty of water to drink. They should feel better within half an hour.
Heatstroke is more serious and shows the body core has overheated to such an extent that it cannot cool itself. Dry skin, headaches, confusion, vertigo, nausea, thirst, hyperventilation, cramps… don’t hang around. Get the person into a cool place with plenty of water to drink. Cool the body with a fan, cool water (not cold) and/or wet towels. Seek medical aid.
TIP During the day eat small, cold meals that have high water content, like salads and fruit. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
OK, so if you’re an astronaut then UVC may be high on your agenda of cosmic radiation that you want to avoid at all costs. But, given this aggressive ultra violet light is blocked by the ozone layer, all us humble campers have to watch out for are UVA and UVB. While UVB is primarily responsible for sunburn UVA penetrates deeper to cause skin aging. Both can damage the skin’s DNA and the pain you feel from sunburn is your body healing itself. Unfortunately, this may not be enough and charity Cancer Research UK (sunsmart.org.uk) says that just one painful sunburn every two years can triple the risk of a melanoma!
UV light can penetrate cloud cover so you can still get sunburn when it is overcast. It is worth remembering that summer months are higher risk periods and that UV are stronger the higher up you go. They also reflect off snow, sand and water so you can get burnt in unusual places like under the nose and behind the ears! Pay a little extra attention to the risks when on the beach or enjoying water sports.
You can do much to avoid sun burn and cancer as our little list here shows. These should be combined with rehydration to help avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
• Spend time in the shade from noon to mid-afternoon – time to invest in a tarp and beach umbrella?
• Cover up – some clothes now come with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating. Tight weave fabrics provide the best protection.
• Wear a hat and sun glasses – the latter should have a CE Mark and British Standard (BS EN 1836:1997) or equivalent European standard, or a UV 400 label, or a statement that the sunglasses offer 100% UV protection.
• Apply a sunscreen regularly and generously – especially after getting wet. Forget price but look for a minimum SPF 15 or a high star rating. However, a higher rating does not mean you can stay out in the sun longer – just that it provides a few per cent extra protection.
• Be aware of your skin type and the prevailing UV index that tells you how strong the UV rays are at the time you go out. Prepare protection accordingly.
• Know how to spot skin cancer.
TIP Keep a close eye on children – you do not feel the effects of UV damage until too late so ensure they regularly rest in the shade, drink plenty of water and have sunscreen regularly applied.