Ask The Wellness Experts: Having A Safe Spring Break


    “I came back from spring break with second-degree sunburn, chlamydia, and trip to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning. It was the best Spring Break ever!” said no college student in history. SO… how do you have a great spring break and avoid: sunburns, alcohol poisoning, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

    Whether the venue is Cabo, Colorado, or Calvert County, always wear sunscreen, preferably broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection, SPF 30 to SPF 50. Water, sand, sun, and high altitude intensify ultra violet (UV) exposure. There are no waterproof or sweat-proof sunscreens. Reapply, reapply, and then reapply again, every 40-80 minutes. Clothing is available that offers sunscreen protection – some of it is even cute! Keep in mind: 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. What happens in the younger years drives what happens in the later years, so set yourself up for success in the future with your skin. A shot glass amount of sunscreen is the amount you should use each application.

    Speaking of shot glasses, alcohol is often a big part of college and college spring break. Pay attention to the types of drinks consumed. Beer and wine have less alcohol than mixed drinks. Know your personal limits. 1,825 college students (from 18 to 24 years old) die every school year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries. One of the greatest dangers is alcohol poisoning, which is a severe physical reaction to alcohol. High levels of alcohol reduce the automatic, involuntary drive to breathe, can impair the gag reflex, lead to vomiting, and risk for aspiration into the lungs – all of which can end in death. Signs of alcohol poisoning include slow and irregular breathing, vomiting, confusion, and possible lapse into unconsciousness. If these are observed, the heavily intoxicated person should be taken to the emergency department immediately. DO NOT put them to bed to “sleep it off” because it could be the last thing you ever do for them!

    Did you know certain activities, like lounging in the sun or hot tubs intensify the effects of alcohol on the body? Consume plenty of non-alcoholic beverages during the day, especially while in sun or hot tub, and always eat food before going out to consume alcohol.

    Do you know the signs someone’s drink has been spiked? Most people will show symptoms like extreme wooziness, confusion, slurring speech and difficulty standing, even if they haven’t had much to drink. Never accept a drink from someone you don’t know and don’t leave it unattended while you dance or go to the bathroom. Always take drinks, even fancy looking spring break specials or test tube shots, directly from the server, not from a pass down line of people. Keep an eye on you and your friends’ drinks and drinking.

    On to safe sex – it is not just about using condoms. Safe sex applies to how you handle hook ups or new partners too. Make ground rules with your friends prior to your spring break adventures. Rules: like no leaving with strangers (this goes for all people), no going anywhere alone no matter time of day, having a sober friend each day, no leaving a drunk friend alone even in the hotel room, how to handle a situation if a friend insists leaving for a hook up (i.e., program the hook ups name and number in your phone, take a picture of them with your friend)!

    Condoms (internal and external) are important to safe sex too. They are the only way to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. USE ONE EVERY SINGLE time you have sex! EVERY SINGLE time! And use dental dams for safe oral sex. Condoms, dental dams, and lube are available for free at the Wellness Center, right inside the door. If you use oral birth control, remember to pack your pills for break, and remember to take it at the usual time each day. If your birth control methods fail, or the condom breaks or falls off, you can take an emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) with-in 72 hours of an unprotected encounter. ECP helps reduce the chance of unwanted pregnancy. ECP doesn’t protect from STIs, though. If concerned about STIs follow up with a provider. If you plan to be sexually active during spring break, you may consider taking ECP with you. ECP is available over the counter at most pharmacies and available at the Wellness Center for $15.

    Final tips: If sunburn happens treat it as soon as possible. Use cool baths to reduce the heat and moisturizer to help ease the discomfort caused by dryness. After a bath gently pat your skin dry, leaving a little water on your skin, and then apply a moisturizer to trap the water in your skin. Hydrocortisone cream can help ease discomfort; ibuprofen can help reduce redness and swelling discomfort. Sunburn draws fluid to the skin surface away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water prevents dehydration, a good plan for everyone on spring break. Do not use “-caine” products (such as benzocaine). Blistering sunburn indicates second-degree sunburn. According to the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD) you should allow blisters to heal untouched. If blisters cover a large area, like your entire back, or you have chills, a headache or a fever, seek immediate medical care. With any type of sunburn, avoid the sun while your skin heals. Cover affected area every time you head outdoors.

    In event of sexual assault, seek immediate medical attention. In the U.S., call 911 and the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) for advice/support. If abroad, contact the State Department or American Embassy to get connected with special services for American victims of crime abroad. Regardless of when sexual assault occurred, it’s never too late to get help. If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence you can contact RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotlines: 1-800.656.HOPE or

    The Wellness Center and the Peer Health Educators (PHEs) have put together spring break grab bags, available in the lobby of the Wellness Center. First come, first served.