Summer is finally here, and you are ready to participate in outdoor activities with your family and friends. Staying safe in the summer heat is imperative, whether you are partaking in a backyard barbeque, a trip to the local park or spending a day at the baseball field. According to the National Weather Service, heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths each year in the United States. It is important to not only understand how the summer heat will affect your family but also what summer heat safety measures you can take to prevent heat-related illnesses.
What is a heat-related illness?
A heat-related illness occurs when the body is not able to properly cool itself down. Normally our body cools itself down by sweating. However sometimes in extreme heat, sweating is not enough to cool the body down to a normal temperature. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke as the four stages of heat-related illnesses.
Stage 1: Heat Rash
A heat rash, also commonly known as prickly heat, is a skin irritation caused when sweat does not evaporate from the skin. It is often found in the form of clusters of red bumps on the skin on the neck, upper chest or folds of the skin. If you or someone around you is experiencing a heat rash, move to a cooler less humid environment. It is best to keep the affected area dry.
Stage 2: Heat Cramps
Sweating causes the body to lose fluids and salt. Lower salt levels in your muscles lead to cramping typically in the abdomen, arms, and legs. If you are experiencing heat cramps, a good summer heat safety practice is to move to a shady, cool area to rest and drink cool water.
Stage 3: Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is when your body responds to a major loss in water and salt due to heavy sweating. Signs of heat exhaustion are headache, nausea, dizziness, rapid pulse, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating. Heat exhaustion is a more serious form of a heat-related illness. If you are experiencing heat exhaustion you need to sit or lie down in a cool, shaded area and drink plenty of cool water. Cool yourself down by using cold compresses and seek medical attention if your symptoms do not improve within 60 minutes.
Stage 4: Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is the most serious form of a heat-related illness that occurs when the body is unable to regulate its core temperature. The body will stop sweating and can no longer get rid of excess heat. Signs of a heat stroke include confusion, fainting, seizures and very high body temperature. If someone around you is experiencing a heat stroke, call 911 immediately as it could result in death. While you are waiting for medical help, try and cool the person’s body down with water or cool compresses, loosen clothing and provide water as soon as possible.
Who is at risk?
Staying safe in the summer heat begins with realizing that everyone could be at risk of heat-related illnesses. Those, however, most at risk include older adults, very young children and those with mental illnesses or chronic diseases.
There are several factors that affect your body’s ability to cool itself off and ultimately leading to heat-related illnesses. The first factor is the high humidity. If the humidity is high, everyone is at a higher risk due to sweat not evaporating as quickly off the skin. Thus preventing the body from releasing heat. Other factors include obesity, fever, dehydration, poor circulation, sunburn, prescription drugs, and alcohol use.
How do you avoid heat-related illnesses?
Prevent heat-related illnesses by staying safe in the summer heat. These summer heat safety tips will keep you and your family safe as the temperatures rise.
1. Wear light-colored, loose fitting clothing.
2. Take frequent breaks in the shade or an air-conditioned space.
3. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as they cause your body to lose water more rapidly.
4. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and don’t wait until you feel thirsty.
5. Avoid direct sunlight whenever possible.
6. Eat light, cool and easy to digest foods like fruit.
7. Take a cool shower or bath to cool off.
8. Pace yourself throughout the day.
9. Reschedule your outdoor activities to the early morning hours when it is cooler.
How can you stay hydrated in the summer heat?
With increasing summer temperatures and outdoor activities comes increased water loss through sweating. Staying hydrated in the summer begins with these tips.
1. Keep a bottle of water within arm’s reach. Remember to sip on water throughout the day and do not wait until you are thirsty.
2. Reach for hydrating foods like watermelon and cucumbers. After all, 20% of your daily fluid intake should come from the foods you eat.
3. Infuse your water with flavor! Some summer favorites include lime, lemons, cucumbers, and strawberries.
4. Enjoy a frozen sugar-free popsicle. Popsicles are not only hydrating but can be super refreshing.
5. Keep your pets and children hydrated by offering them water often.
6. Check your urine to monitor fluid loss. Urine should be colorless or light yellow.
Don’t be afraid to enjoy the summer sun with your family and friends. Staying safe in the summer heat begins with being aware of the dangers of heat-related illnesses and how to prevent them. This summer use common sense, look for the warning signs in others and listen to your body’s cues.