Summer heat can feel great after a long, chilly winter. But too much of the welcome warmth can make you lose your cool in dangerous, even deadly ways.
Although older adults and very young children are most susceptible to heat-related injury and illnesses, anyone of any age can suffer the effects of hyperthermia, or overheating of your body. To stay safe during the warmer months in your climate, you need to know how to prevent heat emergencies — and how to identify signs that you've had too much of the sun's warm embrace.
Here are some simple ways to keep your cool in summertime:
- Dress for the sweltering weather. Go light — in color (to reflect, rather than absorb the sun's rays) and fabric weight (just enough to prevent sunburn). Consider shielding your head with a hat or umbrella.
- Slow your activities. Make a serious effort not to work up a sweat. Keep heavy-duty activity to a minimum in the hottest parts of the day.
- Drink to your health. Stay hydrated with lots of liquids when temperatures rise. Water's the best choice; alcohol's out (even if you're old enough to drink it).
- Eat smaller meals. Avoid overloading your system with heavy helpings, especially high-protein foods. Protein-rich meals pump up the metabolic heat.
- Take the plunge: Cool off in private or public pools. During a heat wave (a prolonged stretch of excessive high temps and humidity), some cities open up fire hydrants with sprinkler systems. Run on through!
- Stay inside. Find shelter in an air-conditioned building — your own home, someone else's, or a public place, like the library or the mall.
Remember that when the seasons turn up the heat, other living, breathing creatures suffer, too.
Never leave pets or children in a car during warmer weather — even with windows partially down. Check on the comfort and health of older residents in your neighborhood. They might not have air-conditioning, or they may try to conserve energy bills by limiting their AC. Find a fan to loan out: Electric fans don't chill the air, but they do evaporate sweat by circulating breezes, which makes your body feel cooler.
Knowing the signs of heat-related distress can help you speed treatment, relief, and recovery to yourself or someone you know.
Here are three common emergencies associated with overheating, along with what you can do in response to the signs and symptoms of heat-related problems.
- Heat cramps send leg or abdominal muscles into painful spasms, typically caused by over-exertion in hot weather. To treat the trouble, move to a cooler environment, drink a few ounces of cool water every 15 minutes, gently stretch the muscles, and relax in a restful position.
- Heat exhaustion is a form of mild shock that follows heavy work or exercise in a hot climate. Blood flow to vital organs decreases as the skin flushes. Although the body temperature stays near normal, other signs of concern appear: heavy sweating, dizziness, headache, weakness, or nausea. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, so quick relocation to a cooler place is key. Sips of cool water; wraps of cool, wet cloths (towels or sheets); and close monitoring can aid recovery.
- Heat stroke, or sunstroke, can be deadly. The body's temperature control goes completely out of whack, causing temperature to soar to brain-damaging levels. The victim may be unconscious, with a rapid, weak pulse and shallow breathing. While you wait for response to your 911 call, cool the person's body in a bath or with cooling wraps. Suspend small drinks of water if you see any signs of vomiting or slipping in and out of consciousness.
Enjoy a sun-sational summer, as you warm up to ways to keep your cool!