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Published on July 01, 2010

Beat the Heat: Safety Tips for the Warm Summer Months

In Brief

  • We are all vulnerable to heat-related illness if exposed to sun or heat long enough. Young children and adults over age 65 have a higher risk of suffering from these illnesses because they may be unable to control their exposure to heat.
  • Some heat-related illnesses that we should all be cautious of include heat stroke, heat exhaustion and sunburn.
  • Some symptoms of heat exhaustion can include: headache, nausea and vomiting, weakness, clammy skin, slowed or weakened heartbeat, dark urine and cramps. 
  • Confusion, rapid heart rate or breathing, decreased sweating (or no sweating), and no urination are late signs of severe heat-related illnesses, like heat stroke, and should be addressed immediately by calling 911. 

Summer is in full swing, which means that it’s time for swimming pools, sunbathing and the occasional trip to the beach. It also means hot temperatures — sometimes bordering on unbearable. Because of this, we should all know how to avoid heat-related illnesses in these warm weather months.

“We are all vulnerable to heat-related illness if exposed to sun or heat long enough,” says George Parsons, D.O., director of the Emergency Department at Springfield Hospital. “However, young children and adults over age 65 do have a higher risk of suffering from these illnesses because they may be unable to control their exposure to heat — like turning on an air conditioner, moving to a shaded area, or getting themselves a cold beverage.”

Others who are at risk for heat-related illnesses include those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and mental illness. Certain medications may also increase risk, such as those used to treat psychological disorders, Parkinson's disease and some allergies.

“Some heat-related illnesses that we should all be cautious of include heat stroke, heat exhaustion and sunburn,” says Gregory Cuculino, M.D., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Taylor Hospital. “Heat-related illnesses are avoidable if you take the appropriate measures to keep cool. Drink plenty of liquids, make sure you have a fan or air-conditioner on in your home, and wear clothing that is appropriate for outdoor heat.”

Some symptoms of heat exhaustion can include: headache, nausea and vomiting, weakness, clammy skin, slowed or weakened heartbeat, dark urine and cramps.

Confusion, rapid heart rate or breathing, decreased sweating (or no sweating), and no urination are late signs of severe heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke, and should be addressed immediately by calling 911.

“If you experience symptoms of a heat-related illness, and they aren’t at the level of severity where you should visit an emergency department, take immediate measures to cool off by getting out of direct sunlight,” says John F. Reilly Jr., D.O., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “Remove excess clothing, apply cool moist towels to your head or pressure points (forehead, armpits and groin), and slowly drink some water.” 

  • Some other precautions to take while trying to steer clear of any heat-related illnesses include:
  • Take a cool shower or bath.
  • Drink plenty of water and avoid dehydrating drinks that include alcohol, caffeine, or large amounts of sugar.
  • Eat cool, fresh and healthy foods like sandwiches, salads, fruits and vegetables. Try to avoid hot, salty foods.
  • Slow down and avoid overheating by not overexerting yourself. Limit your physical activity during the hottest periods of the day.
  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing that is loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored.

“It is important that we take the appropriate precautions against sunburn as well,” says Bruce Nisbet, M.D., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “We should minimize the time we spend in direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day when the sun is the strongest. Also, remember to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day, and reapply every six hours if you’re outdoors for a long period of time.”

Other ways to avoid sunburn can include wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV protection, and loose-fitting, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs. Also, sunscreen should be “broad-spectrum” (meaning it protects the skin from both Ultraviolet A and B rays), and should be applied at least 30 minutes before going in the sun and after swimming or sweating.

For more information about emergency services at Crozer-Keystone Health System, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258).

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