We all love to have fun in the sun. Summer schedules can get jam-packed with outdoor activities, from grilling to family reunions to exercising and playing out in the fresh air. But how much sun is TOO much sun? It’s important to remember that the sun and extreme heat can be dangerous for you, your loved ones, and even your pets. The extreme heat can also do a number on any medications that are left outside, so be sure to take steps to not only protect your skin and your health from the dangers of the outdoors but also protect the meds that keep your health on track.
Protect Your Skin
When it comes to spending time outdoors, it is important to remember that the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV) can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes, and it can do its damage even when it’s overcast outside. Skin cancer is a common form of cancer in the United States. While some people are at a higher risk of getting skin cancer, anyone can get it. Be sure to visit your dermatologist annually to do preventative screenings and monitor changes in your skin.
Regardless of your risk level, reducing exposure to UV rays will help ensure your skin stays healthy longer. Below are some tips to protect your skin.
Using broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays will give you the best protection. Apply it every two hours, even on cloudy days, and make sure that you aren’t using an expired bottle.
Protecting your eyes from the sun will minimize your risk of developing cataracts and protect the sensitive skin around your eyes.
If you are in the sun for a significant amount of time, seek shelter under a tree or umbrella to give your skin a break from direct sunlight for a while.
Wearing clothing that protects your arms, legs, face, ears, and neck will go a long way in protecting your skin. Light, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide brimmed hat are an ideal outfit for sunny days outside.
Protect Your Health
Summer is fun with vacations, picnics, swimming, and grill outs, but don’t forget to play it safe by following these tips:
Reduce your risk of heat-related health problems by drinking plenty of water (at least one eight-ounce glass every hour you are in the heat). As we get older, our bodies have a harder time recognizing when we are thirsty. Additionally, we don’t sweat as much when we are older, so it is harder for our bodies to cool off. This combination leads to an increased risk of heat stroke. ¹
Protect yourself from insects.
Bites from mosquitos and ticks open you up to a myriad of potential diseases such as Zika virus, malaria, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease. When going outdoors where insects are, be sure to apply liberal amounts of insect repellant to your clothing.
Take time to rest.
Pushing yourself too hard can lead serious health issues. When out in the sun, listen to your body and take time to sit down and rest as needed. Watch for symptoms such as lightheadedness with change of position, headache, confusion, and reduced sweating. These may be signs of heat stroke and require immediate attention
Pay attention to your meds' side effects.
Medications are necessary for treating a variety of diseases and conditions, but they can also have a host of side effects. Some of those side effects can increase the risk of heat-related illness, especially in older adults. This includes:
Medications that cause dehydration, such as diuretics.
Medications that cause sensitivity to sunlight, such as certain topical and injection medications like St. John’s Wort, oral contraceptives, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, certain classes of antibiotics, statins, certain anti-diabetic agents, and more.
Medications that cause heat-intolerance, including psychiatric drugs, beta blockers, and some over-the-counter medications like Benadryl and Dramamine. ³
Your pharmacist should let you know if there are extra precautions you need to take while on a certain medication. If you are unsure, you should always double-check. ²
Protect Your Meds
Did you know that extreme temperatures can cause your medications to lose their effectiveness? You may think that pills or liquids are fine in their containers, but they can still be affected by the summer heat. Proper storage is key when it comes to maintaining your medications’ usefulness.
Most medications need to be kept between 59° and 77° for you to receive the maximum benefit. However, some medications require refrigeration, so it is always important to check the label to ensure you are storing your medications at the right temperature. Additionally, you should always follow these medication guidelines:
Keep the medications in their original containers.
Store the medications away from moisture, meaning not in your bathroom where improper ventilation or increased humidity may affect your medications.
Protect your medications from light, as direct sunlight may also affect the temperature and effectiveness of your medications.
It’s not always possible to tell when a medication has been affected, but if your meds are discolored, have an unusual odor, appear damaged, or a cream has separated, do not administer until a pharmacist can verify if the medication is safe for use. ²
When storing medications at home, a good spot is a dresser drawer or a kitchen shelf. However, when storing your medications in the kitchen, be sure to keep them away from the stove or countertop where the sun may shine directly. If your kitchen is humid, you may want to consider storing your medications elsewhere. Whenever possible, try to keep all medications in the same place (except for those that need to be refrigerated).
Tips for Traveling with Meds
If you are traveling with medications, here are some tips to ensuring your medications don’t degrade.
Never leave your medications in a car. Temperatures can skyrocket in a car that is left in the sun.
When you are driving in a car, do not keep medications in the trunk or glove compartments, as they can reach higher temperatures than the interior of the vehicle.
If you are traveling with a medication that needs refrigeration, be sure to pack a freezer pack inside a small cooler to keep your medications safe and cold for as long as possible.
When traveling via plane, do not pack your medications in a checked back. Baggage compartments on the underside of the plane undergo some extreme temperature changes from on the ground, through the air, and back on the ground. Always keep your medications on your person in a carry-on bag.
The Dangers of Mail-Order Medications
While some people prefer the convenience of mail-order medications, it does pose a significant threat to your prescriptions. The temperature inside of a mailbox can reach above 110° and if not delivered right away, by the time you receive your meds they could have lost their potency. Depending on your condition and type of medication, this can be a serious and life-threatening issue.
Instead of mail-order, consider going with a local option that offers delivery. Rather than the medications being left in a mailbox or on the front step, they are delivered to you — and if you aren’t there, they will come back so that your meds can be delivered safely.
Extreme heat can impact our minds, bodies, and our medications in a variety of unhealthy ways. Talk with your doctor and your pharmacist about ways to keep yourself, your medications, and your family healthy during the hot summer months.