Summer is here with along with record-setting heat across the country. Advisories and warnings are in place for millions of people. And climate change seems to be making summertime hotter than ever. Extreme heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States. What’s more, among the top 10 deadliest disasters since 1980, as listed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heat waves are responsible for six. Keeping cool and safe during the summer months is more important than ever.
Here are a few quick reminders to help you and your loved ones stay healthy.
Hydrate. Keep you, your family and pets drinking water even if you’re not thirsty. If you have to work outside, hydrating is even more critical. Try drinking small amounts of water every 15 minutes or so. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Avoid alcohol, sugary drinks and caffeine—they can add to dehydration (that means beer, sodas, sweet tea and iced coffee, in case you were wondering). If you dislike plain water, infuse it with fresh fruit and mint leaves instead. Carry a reusable bottle with you even if you’re just running out to the store and back.
Stay inside when you can. Air-conditioning is the number one way to protect yourself against heat-related illnesses and death. If you don’t have AC at your house, try going to a public library or a shopping mall. Check on local options. Call your local health department. Your community may have locations set up for cooling centers.
Limit time outside to morning and evening hours when it’s cooler. Avoid midday when the sun is hottest. Slather on the sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply according to the directions. When you’re outside, shade your head and body. This is about more than preventing sunburn; too much sun can make you dizzy and overheated. Wear loose, lightweight and light-colored clothing and don’t forget a hat. If you must stay outside for a long time, try this camper’s trick: wet your hat periodically with cool water and cool off from the head down. Make sure you rest often and when you go back inside, take a cool shower. Not only will it cool you down—it will remove irritating sunscreen and possibly ticks.
Never leave people and pets in the car. Even with the windows cracked open, the temperature inside a car can quickly heat up to dangerous levels. When the temperature outside is between 80 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the internal temperature can be a broiling 130 – 172. While anyone left in a car is at risk, children are particularly vulnerable.
Check in on loved ones to make sure they are safe. People 65 and older, young kids and people with chronic diseases or mental illnesses are at the highest risk according to the Center for Disease Control. Make sure they have access to air conditioning and are drinking enough water.
When your area is experiencing extreme heat and humidity, watch out for heat-related illnesses. There are four main kinds: heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Heat rash is often called prickly heat or miliaria and is an itchy, stingy irritation that turns your skin red.
- Heat cramps are painful spasms in arms, legs or stomach. If you think you have heat cramps, move to a cooler location and remove excess clothing. Drink clear juice or a drink containing electrolytes. Massage the cramps gently and try easy range-of-motion stretches to help relax the muscles. Call the doctor if the cramps don’t go away within an hour.
- Heat exhaustion is caused by insufficient fluids and long hours in high temperatures, particularly with high humidity. You may experience heavy sweating, pallor, muscle cramps, dizziness, weakness or vomiting. Immediately move to an air-conditioned place, drink water or a sports drink, remove clothing or take a cool bath. Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or they don’t improve within an hour.
- Heatstroke is life-threatening and happens when your internal temperature rises above 104 degrees. Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Left untreated it can damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. Call 911, move the person into the shade or indoors, remove excess clothing and cool the body with whatever means are available. Cool bath, cool shower, garden hose, fan while misting with cool water or place ice packs (or cold, wet towels) on the head, neck, armpits and groin.
Heat waves seem like they will go on forever, but typically the weather pattern will change and bring relief to everyone. Here’s wishing you and yours a cool and healthy summer.