MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (03/06/2023) — Spring break trips are a time for sun, fun and memories, but it’s important to keep health and safety in mind. 

James Miner, MD, with the University of Minnesota Medical School talks about how families and young adults can stay safe while enjoying their spring break, especially if they’re heading on a trip somewhere with warmer weather. 

Q: How can families stay safe while playing at a pool or beach? 

Dr. Miner: The best way to stay safe around the water is to learn to swim. While it may be too late to start lessons before this spring break, consider contacting your local American Red Cross or community center in the future for boating and water safety courses. Wear a life jacket if you don't know how to swim or you’re not a strong swimmer. 

It’s also important to remember that children require close supervision. Whoever is watching them should always keep them in their direct line of sight whenever they are in or around the water.

Swimming in pools and the ocean is a lot of fun, but swimming in the ocean is trickier than a lake or pool because of waves, currents and tides. Waves and currents can knock you down or pull you into the water. If you are caught in a current, swim parallel to the shore, rather than toward it until the water stops pulling you.

Know your limits, so if you start feeling tired, get out of the water and rest.

Q: How can people protect their skin and stay safe in the sun? 

Dr. Miner: Heading to warm destinations for spring break can expose us to a lot more sun than we are used to in the winter. You can stay protected from the sun by staying in the shade, like under an umbrella, or keeping your skin covered with lightweight clothes. Remember to always put on plenty of sunscreen before you go outside and wear sunglasses with UV protection and a wide brimmed hat to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. I would recommend using broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and reapply at least every two hours. Don’t forget — you can still get sunburned on a cloudy day, so it’s important to always wear sunscreen. Finally, if you think you may be sunburned, you definitely are. Cover that skin and get out of the sun to prevent further damage.

Q: What should people know about safe drinking during spring break?

Dr. Miner: Drinking can impair decision making. If people drink more than they are used to, they may lose track of how impaired they are. People are also often in unfamiliar places and situations during spring break celebrations, and can't rely on routine decisions to keep safe. Be sure to track how much you are drinking and stay aware of your surroundings.

Other tips to keep in mind: 

  • Know what you’re drinking. 
  • Don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know or trust. 
  • Don’t leave a drink unattended. You may also want to consider using a product to detect whether something has been added to your beverage. 
  • Know your limits and when to say no. 
  • Never drive or take part in an activity that requires close attention if you have been drinking. 

Q: If you find yourself in need of medical care while on your vacation, what should you do?

Dr. Miner: If you develop a medical problem you can’t wait to see a health care provider at home, you shouldn't wait while you are on vacation. Most of the time, this means finding an urgent care or emergency department. 

If you’re traveling abroad, getting medical care can be a little more complicated. Some countries have government funded hospitals that offer services similar to what we are used to in the U.S. Others, like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Barbados have good private health services that can handle anything you would need as a tourist with an unanticipated medical problem. In countries with less developed medical systems, you may want to look into the best place for you to go. 

Some resources that can help you find the best place to go include:

Q: In general, what can families and young adults do to ensure a safe and healthy spring break trip? 

Dr. Miner: If you are in an unfamiliar place, pay extra attention to your safety and stay in groups. Know where you’re going, what you’re doing and have a plan to get around. Stay hydrated. It’s probably warmer weather than you’ve been exposed to in a while, so you will get dehydrated more quickly than you would at the end of summer.

Avoid excessive alcohol consumption and stay hydrated with water. Being in the heat of the sun and being dehydrated can make this worse. This is true for hot tubs as well.

Lastly, don’t use drugs. This is often what precedes some of the worst things that happen to people on vacation and lands them in the emergency department. 

James Miner, MD, is a professor in emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Chair of Emergency Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center. Dr. Miner conducts research in the areas of pain management, procedural sedation, altered mental status, shock and monitoring during critical care in the Emergency Department


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