Being around the sea is a national pastime for Australians — walking on the beach, boating, surfing, snorkelling, diving or dipping. You name it we love it.
Many of us also opt for a coastal holiday even when travelling abroad with destinations like Thailand, Bali, and Hawaii being popular.
But your long anticipated beach or ocean holiday could turn nasty if you end up lobster red from sunburn or on the wrong side of a sea urchin.
Here are some tips for preventing common beach holiday injuries, what to do if you are unlucky, and when to seek medical help.
Getting a little bit of sun is good for your health, but too much sun results in both visible and invisible damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays.
There are two types of UV rays — UVB and UVA.
According to Associate Professor Jane Hanrahan, a sunscreen expert from the University of Sydney, it’s important to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) that protects your skin from both types of UV radiation.
“UVB is the cause of sunburn, but UVA can be more damaging to the skin in the long term”, she said.
Professor Hanrahan warns not to rely solely on a broad-spectrum sunscreen, but to use it along with other sun protection measures.
To protect you from the harmful effects of sun:
- If you do get burnt
There’s no fast-fix for sunburn. It can take 12 to 24 hours to feel the full extent and severity of sunburn, and several days for your skin to start healing. But you can help ease the discomfort (see Tips for easing mild sunburn).
If you get seriously sunburnt see a doctor, especially if the area is blistered and very painful, you feel sick in the stomach or have a bad headache.
In extreme cases, staying out in the sun for too long can cause ‘sun stroke’ (or heat stroke), especially when you don’t drink enough water. Seek medical attention if you or your child is very unwell after heat or sun exposure, especially if you’re dizzy or confused, have a high temperature and symptoms of dehydration, for example dry mouth, thirst or not weeing for a long period.
Sunburn is not the only potential danger when on a seaside holiday. You might unwittingly step on a stingray or sea urchin, or swim into a bluebottle — leaving you with a nasty sting or spine in your foot.
- First aid for sea stings and spikes
Most encounters with ocean creatures are minor and only require simple first aid, although there are some exceptions such as poisonous bites and stings.
Contrary to popular belief, vinegar is not helpful for bluebottle stings; instead you should wash the area with sea water (not fresh water) and remove any tentacles.
To ease the pain and trauma of minor stingray, sea urchin and bluebottle injuries, soak the affected area in hot water (45 ºC or as hot as you can tolerate) for up to 90 minutes. If you still have pain, an over-the-counter pain reliever such as paracetamol (e.g. Panadol) or ibuprofen (e.g. Nurofen) may help.
After a sea urchin injury, remove the spines close to the surface of skin. See a doctor if there’s a chance you haven’t removed everything.
- When to get help
It’s important to seek medical help if you are stung or bitten in the water, as it’s often impossible to know what has stung you and how poisonous the sting might be. Even puncture wounds that are not poisonous can become infected if they are not cleaned properly. If there is bleeding apply pressure to the wound and seek medical attention immediately, particularly if the wound is in the chest or stomach area.
Get urgent medical help if someone has difficulty breathing, if their lips or tongue are swelling, if they’re acting confused, or have severe pain or uncontrolled bleeding.
You should also get medical advice if any injury worsens, or if the person seems to be getting worse instead of better — it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Before you use a pain reliever, check it’s suitable for you or your child. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
This article is supplied by NPS MedicineWise, providing independent information on medicines and medical tests, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing.
If you have questions about your medicines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the NPS MedicinesLine 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). Learn more about medicine and medical tests at their website www.nps.org.au
For more top tips about travel and medicines visit NPS MedicineWise.
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