When summertime temperatures soar, the body must work very hard to maintain a healthy temperature. People who work outdoors are at increased risk of heat-related illness but danger also occurs when enjoying favorite activities during the hottest time of the day. Gardeners, sports enthusiasts, and adults monitoring kids at play need to be on alert for signs of illness and take every precaution to prevent harm caused by heat stress.
Dr. Richard Schwartz, an emergency medicine expert at Georgia Regents University medical center in Augusta, offers eight ways to beat the heat to ensure safe outdoor fun all summer long:
- Schedule work and play wisely — The sun is hottest between 10:00 AM and dusk. Stay indoors or keep to the shade as much as possible during this time.
- Don’t overdo it — Don’t overexert yourself with physical activity, be it work or play, when the day is hottest. Start slow, avoid vigorous activity, and take plenty of breaks, preferably in the shade or indoors.
- Enjoy the shade — Stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible and wear heat-friendly clothes: wide-brimmed hat, loose-fitting clothing that is lightweight and light in color, and don’t forget the sunscreen.
- Water, water, water — Drink water before going outdoors and while you are out there, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Beverages that contain sugar, caffeine, or alcohol won’t keep you hydrated. Water is your best friend for safest fun in the sun.
- Swimming refreshes but does not hydrate — The water may feel cool and refreshing but water activities are exercise that heats the body from within and causes water loss through perspiration. Keep drinking water handy.
- Enjoy cool foods and beverages — Hot, heavy meals will make the body work harder to stay cool. Extremely cold foods and beverages can cause stomach cramps when the body is fighting to maintain a healthy temperature. Choose foods and beverages in the cool range between extremes.
- Don’t go it alone — Heat stress can cause disorientation, mental confusion, and fainting. You may suffer illness or injury and not be coherent enough to call for help. Make sure you have someone watching out for you while you watch out for others.
- Enjoy the indoors — Stay inside as much as possible, be it at home or in air-conditioned public places. Indulge in cool showers or baths to help the body maintain temperature if no air conditioning is available. With or without A/C, don’t use the stove or oven if it’s possible to do without them; they’ll overheat the environment and add to the problem.
Heat stress affects the body in various ways. Know the symptoms and appropriate first-aid measures. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes guidelines for summer safety on the job but these guidelines are equally effective at home and at play.
It is especially important to know the symptoms of heat stroke. This condition can be deadly and requires immediate medical assistance. Call 911 the minute you notice someone experiencing:
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating even if the person is having chills
- Throbbing headache
- Hot to the touch
- Mental confusion, dizziness
- Slurred speech
In 2014, 123 people died from heat-related illness. Many more were hospitalized or confined to bed rest at home to recover from too much activity outside on hot, sunny days.
- "Heat Stress." Workplace Safety & Health Topics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.