A Safe Spin on Summer

These suggestions will have wheelchair users spinning through a fun and safe summer season.

Summer isn’t technically here just yet, but the weather continues to get nicer every day across the country, and that means outside activities are starting to increase. It also means wheelchair users need to take some extra precautions when heading out.

The summer heat and sun can be tough on everyone, but it can be even harder on those in a wheelchair. Overheating, autonomic dysreflexia, sunburn and heat rash are just a few things that create special problems for wheelchair users in the summer.

That doesn’t mean anyone shouldn’t be able to go outside and enjoy time with the family by the pool, on a picnic, at a ball game or in a park. Special problems call for special care, and these ideas will help keep the summer fun.

Wash-in Protection

We all know how damaging too much sun can be to our skin, but don’t think throwing on a shirt will protect you from dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays.

The average white T-shirt only has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of five or less. The rule of thumb is that if you can see some form of light through your clothing, then UV rays are getting through. All kinds of clothing lines offer high UPF ratings, but buying new clothes can be expensive. So, why not give the clothes you already have some added protection?

Sun Guard is an additive that washes sun protection into your everyday clothes when you do your laundry. Recommended by dermatologists, it provides your clothing with UPF 30 protection, which blocks 96% of the sun’s harmful rays. Sun Guard says the protection will last for up to 20 washes.

For more information, visit sunguardsunprotection.com.

Gloves protect the hands from metal parts on a wheelchair heated by the sun.

Screen it Out

OK, using sunscreen to protect yourself from UV rays is nowhere close to being new information, but there are some things to keep in mind that may be surprising.

The idea of looking for a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) has been around for a while, but a high number doesn’t mean you’re safer. The American Cancer Society says, “No sunscreen protects you completely.” It notes that SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, but the percentage of increase grows smaller as the SPF number goes higher.

It’s also important to keep in mind SPF only refers to protection from UVB rays and not UVA. The American Cancer Society recommends using products that contain avobenzone (Parsol 1789), ecamsule, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide to get some protection from UVB and most UVA rays.

Also make sure to look at your sunscreen’s expiration date. Most sunscreens are good for about two or three years.

For more information, visit cancer.org.

A Prescription for Safety

Spending too much unprotected time outside in the sun while taking some medications can put you at greater risk for a good sunburn and even skin cancer.

Certain drugs put users in danger from the sun’s harmful rays. Be especially concerned if you take an immunosuppressant because of an organ transplant. The New Zealand Dermatological Society says immunosuppressant users are at 65 times greater risk for skin cancer than non users.

Additionally, The University of Maryland Medical Center says other drugs such as those for psoriasis, chemotherapy, diabetes, depression and anti-anxiety can also cause someone to be extra sensitive to the sun.

The best way to know for sure that what you’re taking isn’t putting you at increased risk is to check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Keep Your Cool

Unless you live in Alaska or somewhere like that, it’s going to get toasty outside at some point this summer.

Because of the body’s damaged nervous system, people with spinal-cord injuries are at a bigger risk for overheating (hyperthermia). Their bodies are unable to sweat as well, if at all, below the injury site, and that causes them to become overheated faster.

Besides the simple and obvious protective actions such as staying in the shade, drinking plenty of water and wearing light clothing, here are some other things to keep in mind:

– Use a spray bottle of water to help keep your skin cool. The cool water on your skin will act the same as sweat.

– Be aware that your wheelchair is in the sun, too, and it gets hot. That heat can give you a little burn if you grab it in the wrong place, so think about wearing gloves.

– Be careful using heavy creams or ointments on legs and other areas that may have trouble sweating. The lotions can clog pores and make it even harder for the skin to cool itself.

If you do find yourself overheating, a cool rag around the back of your neck can help take your temperature down. A study by the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System found cooling of the feet in people with SCI can also help regulate temperature.

Heat Rash

Keeping cool in the summer sun can also help in another area that is of special concern to those with SCI, and that’s heat rash.

Humidity, especially such as in the South and Midwest, can be brutal in the summer. It’s not too hard to get a good heat rash in closed-off areas of the body such as the inner thighs and between the toes.

Preventing heat rash involves a few of the same ideas as keeping cool. Wearing lighter, breathable clothing and not staying in the sun too long can all help. Also make sure to get those closed-off areas of the body some extra air when possible.

Some people may turn to talcum powder as a first line of defense from heat rash, but that isn’t the best thing to do. The University of Washington Department of Rehabilitation Medicine says to avoid using talc powders since they might support yeast growth. They can also “cake up” and keep moisture in, causing even more problems.

The Mayo Clinic recommends not using creams or ointments because they don’t prevent heat rash but instead block pores. It also suggests bathing in cool water and using nondrying soap with no fragrances or dyes.

For more information, visit rehab.washington.edu/patientcare. 


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