Alcohol, Heat & Sun: 6 Things to Know
Whether you’re enjoying spring break, unwinding at the beach or throwing a backyard barbecue, a fun day in the sun can leave you with a warm feeling feeling of relaxation. Add in too much alcohol, and the day can leave you depleted, cranky, sunburned, hungover or much worse.
Before you mix alcohol with heat and sun, there are six important things to know:
- Dehydration. Perspiration due to heat and sun cools your body but depletes fluid levels. Alcohol acts like a diuretic, so you release fluids in another way. Either one can cause dehydration, but in combination, it can quickly grow severe, causing initial symptoms such as dry mouth, lightheadedness, headache and queasiness.
- Losing your cool. Whether the cause is the heat, alcohol, exercise or some combination, dehydration reduces sweat production and interferes with your body’s ability to cool off. You can quickly grow overheated, which leads to symptoms such as red skin, lethargy, dizziness and nausea.
- Heat stroke. Dehydration, the associated loss of salt and essential minerals, and reduced perspiration can lead to a range of heat illnesses. Heat cramping is the initial stage, and it produces painful muscle spasms. Heat exhaustion is the next stage, and it’s characterized by muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting, fainting and fever. Heat stroke is the last stage, and it involves similar symptoms coupled with confusion, agitation and lethargy that can progress to seizures, coma and even death. To complicate matters, alcohol can affect your ability to make rational decisions and seek help.
- Greater risk of sunburn. Some studies indicate alcohol converts into a compound that can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Not only might you burn more quickly, but alcohol can cause you to lose track of time, hamper your ability to remember to apply sunscreen, and hinder your ability to notice the warning signs.
- Increased risk of skin cancer. The same compounds in alcohol that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight may also increase your long-term risk of developing skin cancers such as melanoma.
- Poor judgment. From swimming and beach games to water scooters, boats and cars, the mix of sun, heat and alcohol can impair your judgment, affect coordination and decision making, and cause you to put yourself and others at risk.
To avoid these things, take a few commonsense actions. The first obvious step is to avoid drinking too much alcohol. Counter dehydration by consuming at least 8 oz of plain, coconut or electrolyte-boosting water for every alcoholic drink you imbibe. Avoid tea, coffee and caffeinated drinks, because they too act as diuretics. Finally, eat enough food to help buffer the alcohol and replenish minerals and nutrients.