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How to maintain optimal health while having fun at festivals

Smart talk on health



April brings festival season, and along with it, a host of sunburn, dehydration and heat exhaustion cases. Dr. Kevin Roache, vice president of medical affairs at Peoples Health (3838 N. Causeway Blvd., Suite 220, Metairie, 504-849-4500; www.peopleshealth.com), offers tips for maintaining optimal health while having fun at festivals and beyond.

Do you have any tipsfor staying hydrated at the festivals?

Don't wait until you feel thirsty to start drinking. Drink at least 24 ounces of water prior to heading out. Remember not all drinks are created equal. Sodas, sugary drinks and caffeinated beverages taste great and feel refreshing, but they can actually make you lose fluids.

  If you plan on walking or biking to a festival, drink even more water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

What about alcohol consumption?

Alcohol serves as a diuretic, which makes you further dehydrated. Alcohol can interfere with your body's ability to regulate its temperature and can dilate blood vessels — making you more susceptible to passing out from dehydration or heat. For every alcoholic beverage consumed, aim to have at least two glasses or a bottle of water.

What measures can people take to avoid heat exhaustion?

Once you are out and about in the crowds, know your limits and rest frequently.

  While attending French Quarter Festival, pop into local restaurants and shops to enjoy some air conditioning. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has fewer opportunities for air conditioning, so you should frequent the misting tents, pick a spot near a band under some trees, or visit the tented stages to shield you from direct sunlight. If you feel lightheaded, confused or weak, find shade and rest as soon as possible.

  When you've hit your limit, head home. The festival won't be enjoy-able if you're under the weather. Most important, don't ignore signsor symptoms. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience serious lightheadedness or an irregular heartbeat.

Does it matter whatyou eat?

There are so many incredible dishes available at the festivals, but those delicious fried and salty foods can magnify the effects of dehydration. Staying healthy is all about balance. You can still have your crawfish bread, but opt for fruit instead of a funnel cake.

What are the best ways to protect oneself against sunburn and skin damage?

Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible. The midday sun emits the strongest rays and lasts from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — when festivals are in full swing. Wear protective clothing including wide-brimmed hats that cover your neck, eyes, ears and scalp. An umbrella shades you from the sun (and prepares you for a sudden spring shower). Sunglasses with UV protection prevent eye damage that may lead to cataracts.

  Any time you plan on being outdoors, make sure you wear and reapply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Don't forget to apply sunscreen to the often overlooked areas like your ears, hands and tops of your feet. Also, apply lip balm with SPF to keep your lips from burning or chapping.

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