Beach Safety

Fun in the Sun Has its Risks

Be prepared when you go to the beach. Always take sunscreen and cold, non-alcoholic beverages (preferably water) with you. A few other helpful items to take along include Neosporin, Motrin or Tylenol, band-aids, antiseptics, and pre-packaged moist towelettes. A day at the beach can go from fun to not so fun in an instant. So it’s a good idea to be prepared and know how to handle certain situations, should they arise. Below are some common mishaps that can occur at the beach.


Nearly 50% of adults nationwide got at least one sunburn last year, according to the CDC. Sunburns can be very serious and raise the risk for melanoma later in life. Drinking alcohol and/or falling asleep in the sun can be very risky. Always wear sun screen. But if you do get burned:

  • Drink water or juice to replace fluids you lost while sweating in the hot sun.
  • Soak the burn in cool water for a few minutes or put a cool, wet cloth on it.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen.
  • Treat itching with an OTC antihistamine cream or a spray like diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl), which helps block the inflammatory reaction.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment or an aloe cream with emollients that soften and soothe the skin directly to the burned area.

Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in. With dehydration, more water is moving out of our cells and then out of our bodies than the amount of water we take in through drinking. When we lose too much water, our bodies may become out of balance or dehydrated. Severe dehydration can lead to death.

Symptoms of Dehydration in Adults

The signs and symptoms of dehydration range from minor to severe and include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness fainting
  • Fainting
  • Inability to sweat
  • Decreased urine output
  • Urine color may indicate dehydration. If urine is concentrated and deeply yellow or amber, you may be dehydrated.

When to Seek Medical Care

  • Call your doctor if the dehydrated person experiences any of the following:
  • Increased or constant vomiting for more than a day
  • Fever over 101°F
  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased urine production
  • Confusion
  • Weakness

Take the person to the emergency department if these situations occur:

  • Fever higher than 103°F
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness (lethargy)
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest or abdominal pains
  • Fainting
  • No urine in the last 12 hours

Try to get people who are dehydrated (even those who have been vomiting) to take in fluids such as Gatorade or prepared replacement solutions (Pedialyte is one example) or popsicles made from juices and sports drinks. Try to cool the person, if there has been heat exposure or if the person has an elevated temperature, in the following ways:

  • Remove any excess clothing and loosen other clothing.
  • Air-conditioned areas are best for helping return body temperatures to normal and break the heat exposure cycle.
  • If air conditioning is not available, increase cooling by evaporation by placing the person near fans or in the shade, if outside. Place a wet towel around the person.
  • If available, use a spray bottle or misters to spray luke-warm water on exposed skin surfaces to help with cooling by evaporation.

Avoid exposing skin to excessive cold, such as ice packs or ice water. This can cause the blood vessels in the skin to constrict and will decrease rather than increase heat loss. Exposure to excessive cold can also cause shivering, which will increase body temperature–the opposite effect you’re trying to achieve.

Drowning/Near Drowning

Drowning may result in death or complete recovery, but victims may often sustain some physical or mental injury as a result of lack of oxygen. Because the head is submerged, air and oxygen can’t get into the lungs and the victim suffocates. The tissues and organs in the body require oxygen to function, and begin to fail within a matter of minutes if deprived of it. Without oxygen, the heart muscle can become irritable and cause the electrical system to malfunction, preventing the heart from beating. Brain damage occurs within six minutes if it lacks oxygen rich blood flow.

The following are drowning risks in teenagers and adults:

  • Alcohol consumption, which is a factor in half of all teenage and adult drowning deaths.
  • Inability to swim
  • Medical emergency in the water.
  • Fatigue or exhaustion when swimming. Use the buddy system.
  • Not appreciating the environment. Pay attention to colored flags.
  • Boating accidents

Signs of drowning

In real life, drowning doesn’t look at all like it is depicted on television or in the movies. The victim does not flail and thrash in the water, as it appears in the movies. Instead, drowning tends to be a deceptive quieter act, and victims tend to appear lethargic.

The drowning victim often is bobbing with their head tilted back just at the waterline and the mouth wide open. There are attempts to keep rolling on to the back. The respiratory effort may be rapid but is often shallow. The eyes tend to be wide open and may hold a sense of panic. If there is a swimming effort, it is weak and uncoordinated.

All drowning victims require an emergency 911 call.

Even though the majority of drowning victims are revived with first aid, all victims require activation of the emergency medical services and evaluation by a health care professional. Complications of the drowning event may take time to develop and their presentation may first be noticed hours after the drowning episode. When administering first aid, remember, there’s no mouth-to-mouth [resuscitation] anymore— just chest.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures for several days and have become dehydrated. Health conditions, including sunburn, and certain medications can make you more susceptible. There are two types of heat exhaustion:

  • Water depletion. Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.
  • Salt depletion. Signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

The most common signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Confusion
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Pale skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

Treatment for Heat Exhaustion

It’s essential to immediately get out of the heat and rest, preferably in an air-conditioned room. If you can’t get inside, try to find the nearest cool and shady place.

Other recommended strategies include:

  • Drink plenty of fluid (avoid caffeine and alcohol).
  • Remove any tight or unnecessary clothing.
  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
  • Apply other cooling measures such as fans or ice towels.

If such measures fail to provide relief within 30 minutes, contact a doctor because untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.

Sea Life

Stingray Stings

Stingrays are common in coastal waters and are not aggressive, so an injury from a stingray usually occurs when a swimmer accidentally steps on one. For this reason, it is recommended to shuffle your feet when wading to alert sting rays and other sea creatures and to avoid stepping directly on one. Most stingray injuries require immediate medical attention. Stingray stings are one of the most common beach-related injuries, but are rarely fatal. However, in 2006, Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) was killed when a stingray barb pierced his heart.

Most stingrays have one or more barbed stings on the tail, which they use for self-defense. The stinger may reach lengths of 35 cm (14 in), and its underside has two grooves with venom glands. Stingrays have flat bodies with long, slender tails that have serrated spines. The serrated spines also contain venom and can cause lacerations and puncture wounds.

Stingray Sting Symptoms

  • an immediate, sharp, excruciating pain that peaks in 1-2 hours
  • bleeding wound
  • wounded area may become swollen and may turn blue or red
  • lymph nodes may become swollen
  • nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, muscle cramps, tremors, paralysis, fainting, seizures, elevated heart rate, and decreased blood pressure may develop. Death may even occur.

Jellyfish Stings

  • Jellyfish are non-aggressive, but have tentacles filled with poison that can cause a painful to sometimes life-threatening sting. Jellyfish are usually found near the surface of the water during times of diminished light, floating in the water column, or after washing up on the beach.
  • Symptoms include an intense, stinging pain, itching, rash, and raised welts.
  • The progressive effects of a jellyfish sting may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lymph node swelling, abdominal pain, numbness/tingling, and muscle spasms.
  • Severe reactions can cause difficulty breathing, coma, and death.
  • A sting from a box jellyfish or other venomous types of jellyfish can cause death in minutes.

Jellyfish Stings Treatment

If you are stung by a box jellyfish, seek medical help immediately. While you are waiting for medical help, flood the area with vinegar until medical help is available and keep as still as possible. If you are not close to medical care, soak the area and tentacles for 10 minutes or more, before attempting to remove them. If the sting is on the arms or legs, you can place a pressure dressing (like an ACE wrap used for a sprained ankle) around the sting. This will help to slow down the spread of the toxin. Be careful that you do not stop blood flow – the fingers and toes should always stay pink.

For other jellyfish stings, soak or rinse the area in vinegar for 15-30 minutes to stop the release of toxins. If you do not have vinegar available, rinse in sea water, 70% isopropyl alcohol, or Safe Sea Jellyfish After Sting® pain relief gel. Do not use fresh water. Fresh water will cause the nematocysts to continue to release their toxin. For the same reason, do not rub the area, apply ice or hot water. Remove tentacles with a stick or a pair of tweezers. Wear gloves if you have them available. Apply shaving cream or a paste of baking soda to the area. Shave the area with a razor or credit card to remove any adherent nematocysts. Then reapply vinegar or alcohol. The shaving cream or paste prevents nematocysts that have not been activated from releasing their toxin during removal with the razor. Eye stings should be rinsed with a commercial saline solution like Artificial Tears; dab the skin around the eyes with a towel that has been soaked in vinegar. Do not place vinegar directly in the eyes. Mouth stings should be treated with 1/4 strength vinegar. Mix ¼ cup of vinegar with ¾ cup of water. Gargle and spit out the solution. Do not drink or swallow the solution. For pain, take acetaminophen (Tylenol) 325 mg 1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours for pain; or ibuprofen (Motrin) or Aleve every 8 hours for pain. CPR may be necessary if the person stops breathing and/or no longer has a pulse.

Types of Jellyfish Found along Florida Panhandle

Four main types of jellyfish are found in the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida Panhandle. These range from mostly harmless to deadly, so know what to look for next time you visit the Gulf in Florida, and be prepared. Jellyfish increase with availability of their prey, as well as seasonally, numbers rising with the temperature. Highest numbers near shore are usually June through August.

Cannonball Jellyfish: These are the most common type found in the Gulf of Mexico. Cannonball jellyfish are relatively harmless unless encountered in large numbers. They are characterized by a round, rigid bell and reddish-brown pattern, tennis- to soccer-ball size.

Moon Jellyfish: Surfers fear these the most—30 minutes or so of burning and itching await the unlucky swimmer who runs into a moon jellyfish. They are usually clear or white-tinted, with a pinkish cloverleaf pattern in the center, 3 to 20 inches across.

Sea Nettle: Sea nettles have a slightly darker brown body compared with moon jellyfish, with more tentacles hanging underneath, and are usually 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Their sting is also more painful, with itching possibly lasting for several weeks.

Portuguese Man O’ War: More rare, but deadly, the Portuguese man o’war is easy to spot—and avoid—due to the purple or blue air-filled sacs that float above them in the water, one to 12 or more inches across, although the tentacles are very long. Even dead and washed up on the shore, this jellyfish can still sting and poison, so never touch it.

Sea Urchin Stings

Sea urchins are non-aggressive marine animals with venomous spines and pedicellaria that can cause puncture wounds. They live in shallow, rocky bottoms, or hide in sandy cervices. A puncture injury from a sea urchin can cause swelling and redness around the area, which may lead to severe pain and infection. Multiple deep puncture wounds may cause fatigue, weakness, muscle aches, shock paralysis, and respiratory failure. Death may occur.

Sea Urchin Puncture Treatment

  • Immerse the affected area for 30-90 minutes in water as hot as the injured person can tolerate. Repeat as necessary to control pain.
  • Use tweezers to remove any large spines in the wound.
  • Remove the pedicellaria by applying shaving cream to the affected area and gently scrap with a razor.
  • Then scrub the wound with soap and water followed by extensive flushing with fresh water.
  • Do not close the wound with tape or glue skin.
  • If signs of infection, such as pus, redness, or heat occur, apply topical antibiotic ointment and call your doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics. If the patient is started on antibiotics, continue to take them until the patient has used the entire course of the medication. Talk to the doctor about antibiotics and sun sensitivity.
  • Relieve pain with the recommended doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) pain relievers every 4 hours and/or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) every 6-8 hours.

When to Seek Medical Care

  • Seek immediate medical care if the patient develops any breathing problems or chest pain.
  • Spines that enter at or near a joint may require surgical removal.
  • If the patient’s last shot was more than ten days prior to the injury.
  • If signs of infection (pus, redness, increased skin warmth, worsening pain) occur

Alcohol Poisoning

Vacationing at the beach often includes the consumption of alcohol, which can lead to problems if you are not careful. Drinking alcohol in the summer heat can also cause a number of health problems such as hypoglycemia, heart rhythm irregularities, dehydration and weight gain. Dehydration can also increase the risk of having a stroke (especially for people with high blood pressure). Alcohol poisoning can occur when a toxic amount of alcohol has been consumed, usually in a short period of time. The affected individual may become extremely disoriented, unresponsive, or unconscious, with shallow breathing. Because alcohol poisoning can be deadly, emergency treatment is necessary.

Food-Born Illness

Fun in the sun often includes food, but the heat can cause food-born illnesses if you’re not careful. Food poisoning puts about 300,000 people in the hospital every year, hitting its peak in the summer months. Anything with mayonnaise, dairy, or eggs in it and any meat products can develop bacteria after only a couple of hours unrefrigerated. To prevent food poisoning, follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s advice to:

  • Clean—Wash your hands as well as the surfaces where you’ll be preparing foods.
  • Separate— Wrap raw meat securely and keep it stored away from other food items.
  • Cook—Bring along a meat thermometer. Grilling meat browns it very fast on the outside, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe on the inside. Steaks should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees, ground beef and pork to 160 degrees, and poultry to 165 degrees.
  • Chill—Keep everything refrigerated as long as possible. Store perishable items in an insulated cooler packed with ice, and follow the “last in, first out” rule—whatever you’re going to eat first should go at the top of the cooler.

Mild cases of food poisoning can be cared for yourself. Avoid solid foods, and stick with small, frequent drinks of clear liquid to stay hydrated. Once the nausea and vomiting have eased, you can try bringing food back into your diet — slowly and in small, bland portions. If symptoms persist for more than a couple days (or more than 24 hours in small children), see a doctor.

Fireworks Injuries

Many people love fireworks, but fireworks don’t necessarily love them back. Nearly 9,600 individuals were injured by fireworks in 2011, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, and four deaths. Eye and hand injuries are most common. Even sparklers, which can burn as hot as 2,000 degrees, can cause injuries. The safest way to watch fireworks is at a professionally sponsored display. But if you do set off a few yourself, take these precautions:

  • Keep a hose or fire extinguisher handy to put out small fires.
  • Keep children away from fireworks.
  • To care for a fireworks burn, wrap it in a clean towel or T-shirt saturated with cool water and get to an emergency room to have the injury checked out.

Bite Wounds


Barracuda bites are rare but can be as serious as a shark bite. They have strong jaws and sharp teeth. They are attracted to shiny objects and hit hard. If the wound is minor, wash with soap and water, cover it with a clean dressing and seek medical care. If the bite is serious, call 911.

Shark Bite 

Most people do not know a shark is nearby before an attack. Some people receive only a bump from the shark, which likely occurs when the shark is only investigating. Because a shark’s skin contains tiny tooth-like structures called denticles, it is as abrasive as coarse sandpaper. Thus, a bumping can result in a significant abrasion. Shark jaws contain multiple rows of sharp, serrated, triangular teeth, and are continuously replaced as they shed. Classic shark bites are crescent-shaped. Another common wound pattern is a series of parallel cuts caused by the shark raking its teeth on the person. Sharks bites can cause massive tissue loss, with a tooth-to-tooth biting force that has been estimated to approach, in the extreme, 18 tons per square inch. Most bites, however, result in cuts that are not deep, or puncture wounds that do not cause blood vessel or nerve injury.

Water Vehicles

Boating Accidents

One of the biggest mistakes is drinking and boating. Just like driving a car while under the influence, boating while drinking is extremely dangerous. Not only can you collide with other boats, structures or swimmers, but you have the added risks of falling out of boats, getting hit by propellers, and drowning. Always wear a life jacket. And have a basic knowledge of lifesaving skills.

Jet Ski Accidents

As with any motor vehicle, accidents can be very serious. It is important to be responsible, sober and courteous of others when operating a jet ski. Always wear a life jacket and sun screen.