Summer fun got off to a painful start for some beachgoers in Volusia County this month: More than 3,200 people were stung by jellyfish in just twelve days. Though that number is high, it’s not uncommon, as wind currents push jellyfish toward the shore a couple times a year.
Incidents like these are a reminder that for all the beaches’ beautiful views and fun times, there are certain risks you should always be aware of. To help keep your family safe, healthy, and happy on your next coastal getaway, we asked Dr. Paul Mucciolo, medical director of the emergency department at Florida Hospital Flagler, for advice on a few beach safety tips.
Protect From the Sun
Every member of the family should be using sunscreen during your days at the beach. Ideally, you should be applying it 30 minutes before sun exposure to give it time to work.
“Benjamin Franklin’s words ring true when it comes to sun exposure: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” says Dr. Mucciolo. “A small amount of sunscreen applied in a thin layer frequently is more effective than slathering on a paste of sunblock in the morning only. Proper application and reapplication are two keys to prevention of sun-related problems.
Remember that especially in Florida, clouds don’t mean you’re fully blocked from the sun. As Dr. Mucciolo says, “even on overcast days, don’t let down your guard.”
Here are some general rules for different ages:
- Babies — Little ones under 6 months of age should be kept out of the sun. Dress them in lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs and use brimmed hats that shade their neck to prevent sunburn. When adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor). If an infant gets sunburn, apply cool compresses to the affected area.
- Children — Kids should play in the shade whenever possible, and limit sun exposure between the brightest hours of 10 am and 4 pm. Hats and sunglasses are also a good idea. Apply sunscreen of at least 15 SPF and reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. If your child gets sunburn that results in blistering, pain, or fever, contact your pediatrician.
- Adults — Adults should also limit sun exposure between the brightest hours. Choose at least 15 SPF and look for the words "broad-spectrum" on the label. Use a water-resistant sunscreen and reapply every two hours or after swimming, sweating, or towel drying. Rub sunscreen in well, making sure to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet and hands, and even the backs of the knees.
Be Wary in the Water
Pay close attention to the beach’s colored flags that indicate different ocean conditions like “dangerous marine life” and “high hazard” of strong currents and rough waves.
When in the water, be mindful of your surroundings and keep an eye out for plant and animal life.
“The three beach injuries we see most commonly are barbs, stings, and bites,” said Dr. Mucciolo. “Barbs are fish spines which puncture the skin. To treat them, remove the barb and pour a lot of running water over the area for several minutes to consistently irrigate the wound.”
“Stings are best treated by first getting away from the tendrils of the jellyfish. Get out of the water! Then apply liberal amounts of white vinegar,” Dr. Mucciolo advised. Often, beach lifeguards have this on hand.
Though shark encounters are extremely unlikely, it’s recommended that you avoid them by not swimming at dusk or wearing shiny jewelry in the water.
Read up on water safety tips like using the buddy system and never letting young children enter the water without an adult. Setting up camp near a lifeguard station will help ensure that a guard can see your family in the water.
Rip currents create a powerful channel of water that can pull even strong swimmers away from shore. If you are caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight it. Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you’re free, turn and swim toward shore. If you can't swim to the shore, float, tread water, and draw attention to yourself to get help.
Drink plenty of water at the beach and avoid sugary, caffeinated, and alcoholic beverages. Water not only keeps your mind sharp and your systems running smoothly, it helps maintain your body temperature.
Bringing fresh fruit and vegetables as beach snacks is a great way to help keep everyone hydrated throughout the day. Cucumbers, watermelon, pineapple, tomatoes, and celery are some options that contain 85 percent water or more.
Dr. Mucciolo explained how to recognize if you or a family member is becoming dehydrated: “Dizziness, flushing, and weakness are a few of the symptoms of dehydration. As dehydration worsens, vomiting and changes in consciousness can occur. First, remove yourself or the person from exposure to the heat. Lie back in a shaded or air-conditioned area and drink lots of fluids. If you have concerns that it’s not improving (or that another condition could be causing the symptoms), seek evaluation at the nearest emergency department.”
By planning ahead and taking a few precautions, we hope you’ll be able to enjoy the fun, safe, and rejuvenating beach getaway you and your family deserve.