Be Prepared for Sun and Heat-Related Illnesses of Summer
Be prepared for sun and heat-related illnesses of summer with our guide below. The most common heat-related illnesses of summer are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and sunstroke. The best ways to prevent heat-related illnesses in summer are by drinking lots of water, wearing sunscreen, and eating many small meals packed with carbs to keep body heat levels lower.
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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
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Be Prepared for Sun and Heat-Related Illnesses of Summer
For many, summer is a time of fun in the sun, water activities, and picnics. Though often associated with enjoyable, outdoor events, summer can pose more than fun for those who are struck with a heat-related illness. The same activities that make summer enjoyable can quickly create an unbearable and potentially dangerous situation.
By understanding the various types of heat-related illness and knowing how to prevent them, you can ensure the well-being of yourself and your family. Understanding the steps to take should you or someone close to you exhibit symptoms of a health-related illness is also important.
Heat-Related Illness Prevention
Prevention is key to avoiding heat-related illnesses. From heat cramps and exhaustion to heat stroke, understanding the stages of heat-related illness can help people identify warning signs. The body needs to remain cool and this is often accomplished through drinking fluids and perspiration. When the body overheats quickly and without the ability to cool down, the impact can be serious and even fatal.
- Drink water or other fluids such as Gatorade. This is the best way to replenish lost fluids and prevent dehydration. Make certain not to drink beverages containing alcohol and caffeine as these lead to greater fluid loss and dehydration.
- Use an air conditioner when overheated. If you do not have access to an air conditioning unit in your current location, move to an area that has air conditioning. If you are dealing with extreme heat, quickly move to an air-conditioned environment to cool the body down quickly.
- Keep children and pets in a cool, safe environment. Never leave children or animals in an enclosed area, such as a locked car. Temperatures accelerate quickly in a closed vehicle with the window rolled up.
- Dress appropriately for hot weather. If the temperature will be extreme, then stay indoors or locate to an air-conditioned area. Wear loose clothing and choose light colors. Dark-colored clothing absorbs light creating additional warmth.
- Always wear sunscreen to prevent burning. Reapply sunscreen as needed, especially after times of activity, swimming, or sweating. Choose sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
- If performing outdoor activities, look for a cool area in the shade where you can move easily to get out of the direct sun. Remain alert for the signs of heat-related illness in yourself and others. Move out of direct sunlight at the first sign of illness.
- If clothing becomes wet with sweat, change them quickly to remain dry and comfortable.
- Salt tablets are not recommended and should only be used under the direct advice of a healthcare professional.
- Eat small meals consisting of more carbohydrates than protein. Proteins, such as in meat and dairy products, increase the internal temperature of the body.
- Reschedule activities to avoid exposure to direct sunlight.
Heat-Related Terms and their Meanings
Understanding the words and terms associated with heat-related illness is important for recognizing the condition. By understanding the terms used, you can speak effectively with healthcare professionals should any situations arise. In addition to terms associate with heat-related illness, it is important to understand terminology used with weather such as a heat wave or heat index. Meteorologists use these terms and they are important to know when preparing outdoor activities.
- Heat index refers to the temperature as it will feel when the humidity is factored in. Heat index is hotter than what the temperature may read and should be considered when going outdoors.
- A heat wave is a prolonged or sustained period of temperatures that are above 90’. A heat wave typically lasts longer than 48 hours and often includes high humidity.
Heat-Related Illness Stages
Heat-related illness comes in stages starting from less severe to serious and potentially fatal conditions. Everyone should be trained in first aid in order to provide proper care should someone exhibit signs of heat-related illness. Heat-related illness can strike quickly and have potentially fatal consequences. Recognizing the signs and stages are critical for acting appropriately in times of distress.
- Heat cramps are the first sign of heat-related illness. These cramps are in the muscles and may result in spasms. They are often experienced in the abdomen and may be extremely painful. Heat cramps indicate that the body is having a difficult time cooling off and that the person needs to replace fluid and salt immediately.
- Heat exhaustion occurs when someone has sweat so much they are losing too many fluids. Heat exhaustion has a number of symptoms including excessive sweating, feeling dizzy or weak, fatigued, nauseous, clammy skin that appears red or flushed, and a headache. It is important to realize that someone may not have an increased temperature or feel hot to the touch while experiencing heat exhaustion.
- Heat or sunstroke is extremely dangerous and means that a person’s life is in danger. At this stage, a person’s body is no longer cooling down and the brain and internal organs are at risk. At this point, a person may lose consciousness and pass out. A person experiencing heat stroke may have shallow breathing, a weak pulse, red skin that is hot and dry and without moisture, an increased body temperature and may vomit. Those experiencing heat stroke need immediate medical attention. Call 9-1-1 immediately if someone is experiencing heat stroke.
Heat Emergency Care
Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are two early stages of heat stroke. This does not mean that these conditions are less severe, however, as both can quickly lead to heat stroke. Provide immediate care for someone experiencing heat-related illness and call 9-1-1 if the person exhibits severe distress. Always call 9-1-1 if someone loses consciousness, begins vomiting, or has experienced heat-related illness yet refuses to drink fluids.
- Never give fluids containing alcohol or caffeine to someone experiencing heat-related illness.
- Give fluids such as water or Gatorade as long as the person is conscious. Continue giving fluid every fifteen minutes. Make certain the person does not drink the fluids too quickly.
- Immediately move someone with heat-related illness into a cooler area.
- Cool the body as necessary. This may mean placing cool cloths or sheets on the body in order to bring the temperature down.
- Have someone experiencing heat-related illness lie down. Do not let them walk around.
- Call 9-1-1 at the first sign of breathing difficulties or if the person loses consciousness.
- Frequently Asked Questions about Extreme Heat: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) answers the most popular questions regarding heat stroke and illness.
- Heat Injury and Heat Exhaustion: The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons looks at the relationship between exercise and heat-related illness.
- What to do in a Medical Emergency: Heat Related Illness: Emergency Care for You looks at steps to take during a heat-related illness.
- Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart: The National Institute of Health examines physical activity during hot, summer months and safety in this PDF guide.
- Protecting Workers from Heat Stress: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration U.S. Department of Labor shares tips for employers who wish to ensure their workers remain safe during hot weather. (PDF)
- Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car: Safe Kids USA discusses tips and strategies for keeping children safe in hot weather.
- Extreme Heat: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) focuses on the dangers of extreme heat and heat-related illness in this PDF document.
- Heat: A Major Killer: The National Weather Service (NOAA) examines the dangers of heat and heat-related illnesses.
- Extreme Heat: The United States Environmental Protection Agency explores extreme heat and steps individuals and families should take in preparation.
- Hot Weather Tips: The Family Caregiver Alliance shares tips for staying cool and healthy during hot weather.
- Parents’ and Coaches’ Guide to Dehydration and Other Heat Illnesses in Children: This PDF guide by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association focuses on preventing heat-related illnesses in children due to sports and recreation during hot weather.
- Protect Your Heart in the Heat: The American Heart Association looks at the impact that extreme heat has on heart health.
- Preventing Heat Stroke as the Mercury Rises: The University of Minnesota offers ways to remain safe and healthy during extreme heat.
- Heat Stress: Princeton University looks at heat stress and ways to prevent heat-related illnesses.
- Heat-Related Illnesses (Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke): The University of Rochester Medical Center examines heat-related illnesses.