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!

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.

Wear sunscreen.

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 will be 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 or 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 keep 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 sweat. 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. Both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, meaning that they encourage urination. Even if you were hydrated before, these sorts of beverages will dehydrate you quickly. Caffeinated beverages can also increase your heart rate and can cause you to become light-headed or faint. Consuming alcohol actually alters your body’s ability to regulate its temperature. You may feel cooler after an alcoholic beverage, but this is an artificial feeling; Drinking alcohol can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

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, dark 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.

Watch for heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats and has trouble cooling itself. This can occur after prolonged exposure to hot conditions or strenuous exercise.

  • Symptoms: Excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, weakness, dizziness, fainting, headache, and nausea can all indicate heat exhaustion.
  • Treatment: Get to a cooler area. Lie down and apply a damp cloth to your 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, someone should call an ambulance or drive the affected individual to the emergency room.

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, rapid breathing, or become flushed. If an individual’s temperature reaches 104°F or higher, seek emergency medical treatment.
  • Treatment: Take immediate action to cool down the affected person. Get indoors or into a shaded area, take off any restrictive clothing, and cool down with water, ice packs, fans, wet towels, a hose, or anything else that is readily available.

Page last updated: 12/2016