Acces to the Website of the Health's Ministry Back to home page
baignades.sante.gouv.fr home-page
News
Bathing water quality
Sanitary control organisation
Advices and recommendations
Water and health

What are the dangers of bathing and related activities?

 

Table of contents

 
 

Heat, dehydration and sun overexposure

published on 04/16/2008
 
     


 
Sun exposure: better safe than sorry
Every year, sun overexposure causes heat stroke. It also hastens skin ageing and plays a prime role in the emergence of skin cancer, which is increasingly frequent, in ever-younger patient. For this reason, it is important to take the appropriate preventive measures.
four children wearing sunglasses
woman putting suntan lotion on child
  • Use sunscreen with a skin protection factor suited to your type of skin.
  • When exposing yourself to the sun, keep to the hours before 11 AM and after 4 PM, when sunrays are less intense.
  • Wear a hat, cap or scarf to prevent heat stroke and UV-filtering sunglasses.
 
More information

Very high temperatures attack the body and can lead to dehydration, aggravate chronic illnesses or cause heat stroke. France recorded 14 802 excess deaths during the severe heat wave experienced in Summer 2003. Excess mortality results not only from the body’s failure to regulate its own temperature (hypothermia or hyperthermia), but also from aggravated cardiovascular afflictions, respiratory diseases and psychiatric disorders. Out of all victims, the elderly, whose health is generally diminished, form the highest percentage.
The "Heat Wave Plan" lists the action required, in particular of the public authorities, to fight the consequences of extreme heat) and, specifically, to prevent and watch such events and reduce their health impact.
 
A complete set of documents is available online at the Ministry’s Web site on how to prevent skin risks (sunburn, early skin ageing, cancer) and the ophthalmic effects (keratitis and cataracts) resulting from sun exposure.
 
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (INCa) also holds a summer melanoma prevention campaign and has published a set of documents at its Web site http://www.e-cancer.fr.
 
Two basic rules are to be heeded:
  • be reasonable in exposing yourself to the sun;
  • effectively protect children from the sun and newborns from heatstroke.
 
Other simple prevention measures will help you keep protected – all you have to do is heed them!
  • Whatever the time of day, it is recommended that you wear sunglasses; children should have a T-shirt and hat. It is recommended that you use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (25 and above, ask your pharmacist) and re-apply every two hours.
  • People whose skin has low sun tolerance, gets red easily and tans little, along with children, regardless of skin type, should avoid sun exposure between 12 PM and 4 PM.
  • Those whose skin does tan should expose themselves only gradually to the sun, using sunscreen with UV protection on the first few days (yet not extending their sun exposure hours based on the claim that they are using sunscreen). Remember that people who remain still are more exposed than those who are moving, and that ultraviolet rays pass through clouds and reverberate on the water and sand (meaning that beach umbrellas do not guarantee full protection).
  • As a general rule, everyone should aim to lower the amount of time spent outside during the summer, particularly between 10 AM and 2 PM (when the sun is strongest) and remember that exposure to the sun is greater at high altitudes and near the equator.
  • Lastly, watch out for certain products (cosmetics, colognes, as well as medicinal products, such as cyclines, phenothiazines and sulfamides), which increase photosensitivity, making the skin more vulnerable to sunlight.

Beware of dehydration

woman drinking water
During severe heat, it is vital to drink in large quantities in order to prevent dehydration, which occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. The elderly and newborns are particularly at risk for dehydration.
How to avoid dehydration?
  • Give young children something to drink on a regular basis, before they ask.
  • Avoid physical exertion during the hottest hours and during the two hours following a meal.
  • Wet your forehead and nape of neck regularly and wear a hat.
  • Drink frequently and in large quantities.
More information:

Newborns are particularly prone to dehydration due to a still-developing body temperature regulation system, which makes them perspire more than older children. Moreover, they are unable to clearly state their thirst. The signs of acute dehydration are generally as follows:
  • dry, warm skin, after a period of excessive sweating;
  • sunken eyes;
  • high fever;
  • neurological signs ranging from drowsiness to overexcitement.
 
In extreme cases, dehydration can lead to coma, which can leave irreversible damage or become deadly if treated too late. As medical emergencies, such cases are treated in a hospital setting, as is the subsequent treatment. Until a transfusion is available, the child’s body should be cooled off with water and wet cloths.

A few basic rules will help you effectively prevent dehydration:
  • give children something to drink very frequently (water, fruit juice, lightly-salted vegetable broth),
  • dress newborns in light clothing,
  • avoid exposure to sun and heat (never between 12 PM and 4 PM in the summer), especially in enclosed spaces (cars, strollers, etc.),
  • avoid long car trips (or make frequent stops),
  • wet their bodies frequently,
  • do not hesitate to seek medical advice as soon as the first unusual symptoms arise.