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Desert sun can pose real dangers for unprepared golfers


The summer heat is upon us. Nighttime temperatures in the 70s are all right for sleeping but the steady 100-plus daytime heat is wilting. Golfing in the dazzling broiling sun can certainly present real health dangers, with the two main concerns being sun damage and heat illness.
Prolonged solar radiation for golfers can cause sunburn, sun poisoning and even heat stroke. You don’t have to turn lobster red to suffer sun poisoning. Over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) can result in painful tingling, skin swelling, headache, dizziness, fever, chills, nausea and a painful rash. Sunburn is due to over-exposure to UV rays, when the exposed skin turns bright reddish within a short time, with painful burning and blistering.
For folks who are new to the desert Southwest, it only takes a half hour (even 15 minutes) of being out in the hot sun to get sunburned. One form of sun poisoning is a condition called “polymorphous light eruption” or PMLE. PMLE can occur in people who are exposed to intense sun that they are not used to, such as folks who live in northern climates where sunshine UV is less extreme. Symptoms of PMLE include skin rash, small bumps all over the body and often hives.
Then, there is the worry about the big C. A cutaneous malignant melanoma, called “lentigo maligna,” is usually found in areas of the skin which have been overly sun exposed, often about the face and neck. It shows up as a patch of mottled pigmentation seen as shades of dark brown, tan or black. If you notice such an occurrence, don’t hesitate to have it examined by a physician.

The powerful radiation from direct sunshine isn’t the only way you can suffer from summer temperatures. Golfers and outdoor enthusiasts should be aware of the potential dangers of heat-related illness. Prolonged or intense exposure to extremely hot temperatures can lead to heat exhaustion, heat cramps and potentially heat stroke. When humidity is up, the problems can be even worse. Heat illness occurs when the body loses large amounts of absorbed water and salt through excessive sweating, especially from vigorous activity and exercise. Here in our typical low humidity desert climate, sweat evaporates very quickly, giving a person the false sense that he or she hasn’t lost much sweat. The secret is hydrating automatically even before you feel thirsty. Those who are at the most risk for heat-illness are people who drink a lot of alcohol, people who have heart problems and people who are obese, people who are on a lot of medications, along with the elderly and the very young.

Heat stroke, which is one of the most serious of the heat-related conditions, happens when the body suffers from long, extreme exposure to heat and loses its ability to cool itself. I am personally acquainted with the effects of heat stroke during my career of marathon running and Ironman triathlons. Extreme distance athletes, who are well-trained and with very low body-fat percentage, can summon the will to overcome bodily pain (that should be a warning) and push on regardless, which can sometimes lead to disaster. Under prolonged heat conditions, the part of the brain that normally regulates both movements and body temperature tends to malfunction and decreases the body’s ability to sweat and cool itself. That’s when trouble begins. In October 1978, staggering deliriously, I finished my first 26.2 mile marathon in Detroit, and then was taken to a Red Cross tent for IVs, having succumbed to heat exhaustion and dehydration. Stupidly I didn’t stop at water tables. I was determined to qualify for the Boston Marathon (needing sub-three-hours) the following spring but my brain shut down. I pushed too hard. I was transferred to Ford Hospital by helicopter where they revived me. Will is a hard thing to explain. My time was 2 hours 59 minutes and 57 seconds. But I almost died. Don’t do that!

Next week we’ll go over preventive and first aid measures for summer outdoor activities.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed sports psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.