4 Ways to Avoid Heat-Related Illnesses

4 Ways to Avoid Heat-Related Illnesses

Summer is here, and it’s that time of year where we get to enjoy the sunshine and all the fun activities outdoors. Of course, we want to make sure you and your family are safe while you’re doing so, and that means protecting yourselves from heat-related illnesses. We’ve put together some general information and four key tips to keep in mind this season.

What are heat-related illnesses?

It’s not uncommon for people to spend significant amounts of time in the sun, whether they’re at the park for a picnic, enjoying some time at the beach, or gardening in the yard. When summer temperatures get particularly high, spending too much time outside can lead to heat-related illnesses that include:

  • Heat exhaustion: Symptoms include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, which is a result of the body overheating, and without prompt treatment, can lead to heat stroke.
  • Heat cramps: These are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually happen during heavy exercise in hot environments, and the muscles most affected are calves, arms, abdominals, and back (although they can affect any muscle group involved in exercise).
  • Heat stroke: This is the most serious form of heat-related illness, and is considered a medical emergency. Heat stroke often happens because of milder heat-related injuries, like heat exhaustion, fainting, or cramps but can occur entirely on its own. Heat stroke results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures, often in combination with dehydration, and leads to the failure of the body’s temperature control system.

Source: WebMD – Understanding Heat-Related Illness

Who is at risk for heat-related illness?

Summer-Safety-KidsWhile heat injuries can happen to anyone, young children or seniors are most at risk. Body temperature regulation is controlled by the central nervous system, and is one of that system’s most critical functions.

In young children, their body’s ability to regulate temperature isn’t yet fully developed, which puts them at risk for overheating (or heat loss and hypothermia in cold seasons). Adults over 65 are more prone to heat-related health problems for a few reasons – their bodies simply do not adjust to sudden changes in temperature as someone younger, chronic medical conditions can change normal body responses to heat, and prescription medications can affect the body’s ability regulate temperature or sweat [Reference: Center for Disease Control].

How to avoid heat-related illnesses

We’ve gathered four ways to help you avoid heat-related illnesses so that you can focus on enjoying your summer activities:

1. Stay hydrated throughout the day

  • Drink plenty of fluids, even if you’re not feeling thirsty (if you are, it means you’re already dehydrated).
  • Avoid sugary, alcoholic or diuretic beverages (coffee, tea etc.) – these cause you to lose more fluid – and avoid extremely cold drinks, as they can cause stomach cramping.
  • As you sweat, you lose salt and minerals from your body, so you might want to consider a sports drink to help replace what you’ve lost.
  • Don’t forget your pets! They need to drink plenty of fresh water too, so make sure there’s plenty available and it’s always in a shady spot, or inside.

2. Stay cool whether you’re inside or outside

  • The sun is at its peak, and its highest temperatures, between 10am and 2pm each day, so limit or avoid outdoor activities where possible during those times.
  • Overall, stay out of direct sunlight, and make the most of shaded areas, and air-conditioning often to give your body a rest from the heat. If you don’t have AC at home, consider going to a mall or public library for a few hours, and in some regions, there are dedicated cooling centers that you can visit as well.
  • Try to avoid exercising in the heat, especially if you’ve been in a climate-controlled environment throughout the day, or you’re not accustomed to working out in higher temperatures. If you do exercise in the heat, start slowly and gradually pick up the pace; if you become affected by the heat, move to a cool or shaded area right away and rest.
  • If you’re out and about in the heat, dress in lightweight, light-coloured, loose clothing; if you’re working out in the heat, do the same and choose synthetic fabrics that “wick” sweat moisture away from your body to help it stay cool and comfortable.
  • Never leave children in cars. The internal temperature of a vehicle can get so much higher than the temperature outside (even with a cracked window), which is extremely dangerous for anyone locked inside (this includes pets!).

3. Stay protected in the sun

  • sun hat avoid heat-related illnessA sunburn can affect your body’s ability to cool down and can dehydrate you so avoid one by applying sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher at least 30 minutes before you go outside.
  • Wearing a wide brimmed hat can also help keep the sun off your face and head to also help avoid sunburn and to give you some extra (mobile!) shade.
  • Don’t forget your sunglasses! While they look great, they also protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays, which can have long term impact on your eye health.

4. Stay alert and aware

  • Keep an eye on weather reports as the sun comes out, and consider signing up for weather alerts in your area, so you can be notified of any heat warnings.
  • Familiarize yourself with heat-related illnesses and their symptoms so you know what to look for in other people. If you have very young children or older family members, keep a closer eye on them given their higher risk for heat illnesses, and don’t hesitate to start first aid if you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke.

For more safety tips, check out our other blog article, Summer Safety Tips.

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