Everybody expects it to be hot during the summer, but people often don’t think much of the dangers associated with such warm weather aside from sunburns and sweating. Warm weather can be dangerous though, from sunburns that cause blistering to mild dehydration to heat stroke. The following tips detail preventative measures you can take to stay safe in the heat while still getting outdoors to enjoy the weather. Pay particular attention if you’ve recently moved from a cool climate to a hot one!
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Check for a heat advisory.
On days when the weather is going to be unbearably warm, the National Weather Service will issue a Heat Advisory, an Excessive Heat Watch, or an Excessive Heat Warning. An Excessive Heat Watch indicates that warm conditions are on their way, while both Heat Advisories and Excessive Heat Warnings state that extreme temperatures have already arrived. On days with an advisory or warning, take care to remain indoors, and if you have to go outside, take extra precautions.
It only takes 15 minutes for fair-skinned, light-haired people to develop a sunburn. Those with darker skin and hair may last for longer before their initial burn, but they aren’t immune. Everyone, regardless of color, is at risk for skin cancer due to sun exposure. Wearing sunscreen (at least SPF 30) on all exposed skin when you are outside will prevent burns and shield your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. To cover all the skin on your body, you should be using an amount of sunscreen that would fill an entire shot glass. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the tops of your feet, your hands, and your ears. These areas are often overlooked but are just as susceptible to skin cancer as any other part of your body. And, protect your lips! Buy a lip balm that contains sunscreen and use it often. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or after either swimming or sweating.
Note: Sunscreen should be worn at all times of the year, not just during the summer. Snow reflects sunlight the same way that water and sand do, so it’s possible to get sunburnt during the winter. The sun’s rays also can reach the ground on cloudy days, meaning you’re not completely safe just because it’s overcast.
Drink plenty of water.
Even if you don’t feel thirsty, keep on drinking. When you’re hot, you lose water faster sweating than you can absorb it through drinking. Sweating is also the body’s way of cooling off, so continuing to drink water will keep you sweating. Both will help you cool down on hot summer days, prevent dehydration, and prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you know that you will be spending time outdoors on a hot day, drink water before you go outside. That way, you’re already hydrated and your body won’t be trying to catch up on hydration after it’s already started losing water due to sweating. You should also carry a water bottle, since having access to water will encourage drinking throughout the day. You will know that you’re drinking enough when your urine is pale yellow or the same color as water.
Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
Instead of hydrating you, both alcohol and caffeine will actually end up dehydrating you. Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, meaning that they encourage urination. Even if you were hydrated before, these sorts of beverages will dehydrate you quickly on a hot day. Furthermore, caffeinated beverages can increase your heart rate and cause you to become light-headed or faint; these symptoms are similar to those caused by heat exhaustion. Alcoholic beverages actually alter your body’s ability to regulate its temperature. You may feel cooler after an alcoholic beverage, but this is an artificial feeling; drinking alcohol during a heat wave can quickly lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Water, juice, milk, and sports drinks are your best bet for staying hydrated on summer days.
Know that light-colored clothes may keep you cooler on a sunny day.
The theory goes that the lighter your outfit, the more sunlight you’ll reflect, while the darker the clothes, the more sunlight you’ll absorb and the hotter you’ll become. There may be some truth to this, but you shouldn’t run out and buy only white clothes if you live in the desert. You will actually be better off buying clothes that fit loosely, regardless of their color. This is because tight clothing will transfer heat to your body while loose clothing of any color will allow air to flow between the clothing and your skin, keeping you cooler.
Take frequent breaks if you’re working outside.
If you’re working or planning to spend the day outside, you need to take special care to stay hydrated and stay cool. If you have any flexibility, try to spend your time outside in the morning and evening so that you can avoid being out during the hottest time of the day. If you don’t have an option, though, take breaks as often as possible. Even if you can’t get inside during a break, merely halting any manual labor or physical activity and sitting in the shade for a few minutes while you drink water will help your body stay cool. Eating fresh fruit or cool salads will also help you stay hydrated and cool (compared to eating other meals). Towel off your face and neck with a wet towel or rag for instant relief. If you begin to feel faint or nauseated, get inside and take a cool shower. It’s important you take care of yourself so you avoid heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Watch for heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats and has trouble cooling itself. Often, heat exhaustion goes hand-in-hand with dehydration. It may be caused by either a lack of water or by a lack of salt. This can occur after prolonged exposure to hot conditions or strenuous exercise. Untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.
- Symptoms: Excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, weakness, dizziness, fainting, headache, and nausea can all indicate heat exhaustion. Other individuals may experience muscle cramps, fatigue, or confusion.
- Treatment: Quickly get the affected individual to a cooler area. Have them lie down and apply a damp cloth to their forehead and face. Remove any restricting clothing. If there is a fan, turn it on. The individual should drink small sips of cool water.
- Note: If your or someone else’s temperature reaches 104° F or higher, call an ambulance or drive the affected individual to the emergency room as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage to internal organs or, in a worst-case scenario, death.
Watch for heatstroke.
If you or someone else becomes unconscious or has a body temperature of at least 104° F after prolonged heat exposure or strenuous exercise, emergency personnel should be contacted immediately. Heatstroke is a serious condition that can cause brain damage, damage to internal organs, or death if left untreated.
- Symptoms: Like with heat exhaustion, individuals experiencing a heatstroke may experience headaches, nausea, and a rapid heartbeat. They may also experience confusion, seizures, agitation, or rapid breathing, or become flushed. If an individual’s temperature reaches 104° F or higher, seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
- Treatment: Call 9-1-1 and take immediate action to cool down the affected person. Get them indoors or into a shaded area, take off any restrictive clothing (compression shorts, tight jeans, etc.), and cool them down with water, ice packs, fans, wet towels, a hose, or anything else that is readily available.
- If you are using ice packs, ice cubes, or cold and wet towels to cool down someone who you suspect is suffering from heatstroke, apply the cooling mechanism to their neck, armpits, and groin for fastest relief.
Page last updated: 03/2019