Beware These Five Beach Dangers
Although it’s the last week of the official summer season, here in South Florida beach trips are year-round. The primary care doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach, want to help ensure you have a great time while you’re there, so we’d like to remind you of these hazards you may encounter.
1. Rip currents
This is possibly the greatest danger you’ll find at the beach, and also the most common. Each summer an average of 100 swimmers lose their lives to this phenomenon, and it accounts for 80 percent of all rescues made by lifeguards.
Rip currents, sometimes misnamed rip tides, are not tides at all but powerful, narrow channels of water that can reach speeds of up to eight feet per second, and pull swimmers caught in them as far as several hundreds of yards away from the shore. They are often invisible, but can sometimes appear as a channel of choppy or darker water.
Everyone should review with their families what to do if they’re caught in a rip current: a) remain calm; b) swim parallel to the shoreline until you’re free of it; then, c) swim at an angle back to the beach.
This is another common danger encountered at the beach. Although it may be beautiful to watch, especially if it seems far away because you’re out in the open it’s possible to be struck by lightning. An average of 33 people die this way every year. Remember the rule: If you can hear thunder, you can be struck by its associated lightning.
If you’re at the beach and see lightning anywhere, leave. Don’t ignore warnings from the lifeguards. To stay safe, you need to be indoors, or inside a hard-top vehicle with the windows rolled all the way up. When the storm lets up, it’s safe to go back to the beach 30 minutes after you hear the last thunderclap.
You go to the beach for the warmth of the sun, but too much of it can land you in the hospital. Sunburn is, after all, a burn, and it can take up to 24 hours to fully manifest. And of course, there’s the eventual risk of cancer. Over 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light.
Know your limits in the sun, use a sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher and reapply it every two hours—more often if you’re perspiring or swimming. If you still get a severe burn that is accompanied by chills, fever, or a headache, go to the emergency room.
Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S, but cooling ocean breezes may disguise how hot you actually are. Symptoms of heatstroke include hot red or flushed dry skin, the absence of sweating, confusion, rapid pulse, high body temperature, difficulty breathing, strange behavior or hallucinations. This is a medical emergency. If any of these occur, immediately get the person to into shade, or preferably into air conditioning. Call 911. Meanwhile, cool the person with any water or ice available. Apply wet towels to the body, especially the armpits, chest, and groin area.
Although less well-known than rip currents, shorebreak can be even more dangerous. The phenomenon occurs when ocean waves break directly on the shore, rather than breaking on the sandbar, leaving little or no deep water beneath them. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), spinal cord injuries most often occur when diving headfirst into the water or when bodysurfers and swimmers are tumbled about or pitched to the ground by the force of the breaking waves.
Avoid this phenomenon by always walking, not diving, into the water first, which allows you to judge for yourself the depth of the water. You can also ask the lifeguard on duty about surf conditions before going in.
People have enjoyed going to the beach for millennia, and there’s no reason to fear this wonderful form of recreation. Just a few simple precautions can ensure a happy and healthy time while you’re there.