Summer time–Enjoy and be Careful!

(Portions previously posted July 18th, 2013)

Okay, so it was a long, cold winter.  And a rather chilly Spring.  But Summer is finally here, and those hazy, hot ‘Dog Days’ are certainly just around the corner.

We’ve all heard of the ‘Dog Days of Summer’, however, the origin of the term comes from astronomy, not the weather! 

Echo is ready for the water! Image credit: Colleen Hershey, Mount Joy, PA.

Stars aside (and dogs, for that matter), the time of year from early July until around the second week of August is typically the hottest part of the year in North America.  While the activities that we typically engage in over the summer are popular and fun, the risks of overexposure to the summer heat are no laughing matter.

According to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control, excessive summer heat exposure resulted in more than 8,000 deaths inside the United States between 1979 and 2003.1 We at Brubaker Inc. can’t stress enough how  important it is to be aware of the risks associated with heat and to know how to protect yourself in the hot summer weather.

Some basic safety tips in order to protect yourself from the dangers of heat exposure

  • During the hottest hours of the day, stay inside. If possible stay inside an air-conditioned building. The hottest hours of the day are typically from mid morning to mid afternoon.
  • Stay on the lowest level of your home.
  • Keep window blinds and curtains closed from morning until the late afternoon to block extra direct heat from sunlight.
  • Use a fan. Don’t place the fan directly in front of a window because it may push hot air in. Try placing the fan so that it blows in the room and out the window instead.
  • Use small appliances like slow cookers and tabletop grills rather than your traditional oven or stove to keep kitchen heat to a minimum.
  • Dress lightly with loose fitting clothes.

summer heat

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids. According to the Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stress page provided by the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service, when temperatures climb above 90 degrees, it’s important to drink at least a gallon of liquid per day, preferably water. Those who are overweight or are in humid conditions need to drink even more.2
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and beverages that are carbonated or contain caffeine when temperatures are high, as they can lead to dehydration.
  • Exercise in the early morning or later in the evening when the weather is a little cooler.
  • Never leave a person or a pet in the car in hot conditions while you run to do a quick errand. People and animals can succumb to heat exposure and death very quickly in a hot car. We all have heard of the sad stories of children or pets perishing in an overheated parked vehicle.  Cars can overheat quickly and when overheated become like ovens.
  • Verify that seat belts and car seat restraints are not too hot before buckling yourself or anyone else into a car.
  • Seek medical care right away if you become nauseous, start vomiting or experience muscle cramps.
  • Properly supervise children during outdoor play, being sure to monitor them closely and frequently.

Additional Tips for Elderly People3

Elderly individuals are particularly at risk for heat exposure. A few special considerations for keeping elderly persons safe during the summer include the following:

  • Visit elderly family members or friends twice a day during the hottest months of the summer.
  • If there is a heat hotline in your area, make sure that your elderly loved ones have the number and know when to call.
  • Help your elderly friend or relative to get to know his or her neighbors because isolated older adults are at a much higher risk of heat-related health problems and death.
  • Provide on-going education to elderly individuals. Go over topics such as heat exposure-related symptoms and where to call for help.
  • Investigate public community center solutions that have air conditioning and provide transportation for elderly individuals.
  • Work with utility company to ensure that electricity is not shut off during the hottest summer days.

For additional heat safety tips for elderly persons, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Heat and the Elderly page.

Recognizing Heat-Related Health Problems

It’s important to know how to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat exposure. After all, even if you’re taking all necessary precautions, problems can occur. For example, if you happen to be at the park and forget the time, someone may become overheated. Heat exhaustion signs will appear first, and then heat stroke signs. Symptoms, as described by the Centers for Disease Control, are detailed below.

Heat Exhaustionsummer heat

The signs of heat exhaustion may include the following:

  • Breathing that is shallow and fast
  • Pulse that is fast and weak
  • Clammy skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating                                                            
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Loss of color in skin
  • Skin that feels moist and cool (when touched)
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you see any of the above exhaustion signs, get out of the heat immediately. The person experiencing symptoms should be given plenty of cool fluids and be wiped down with cool cloths. If rapid improvement isn’t seen, call 911 immediately.

Heat Stroke

When you hear the word “stroke,” you might think, “that happens to old people, but it won’t happen to me.” However, heat stroke–a medical emergency where the body’s core temperature approaches or exceeds 105 degrees Fahrenheit, damaging the brain and other internal organs, is a serious life-threatening situation.  Though heat stroke mainly affects people over the age of 50, it can take a toll on healthy young people, including athletes and physically fit individuals.  Learn more about how heat stroke can affect even a superiorly conditioned athlete.

The signs of heat stroke include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Extremely high body temperature (over 103 degrees F)
  • Headache that is throbbing
  • Lack of sweating
  • Nausea
  • Rapid pulse that is strong
  • Red skin that is hot and dry (when touched)

Heat stroke usually follows a progression from milder heat-related symptoms like nausea, cramps, or fainting, which occur during or after exercise.  Other common symptoms include seizures, confusion, disorientation, and sometimes loss of consciousness or coma.  Heat stroke itself causes a rapid heartbeat, plummeting blood pressure and problems breathing.  If you or you happen upon someone who appears to be suffering these symptoms, call 911 immediately.  Any delay can be fatal. 

If you are working, training, or playing in the heat, make sure to hydrate regularly.  Do not wait until you are thirsty.  At that point you are way behind in proper hydration.  Take breaks to cool down every 30 minutes. And be on the lookout for heat-related complications, such as:

–Heat cramps, which increase the more and harder you work in the heat (running, jumping, or even gardening). Your skin gets cool, and your muscles tighten up. If any of this occurs, get to a cool area, drink cool water or fluids with electrolytes and apply ice packs.

–Heat edema, which makes ankles and feet swell. Again, get into a cool area. Elevate your legs and drink water, cooled if possible. If the swelling doesn’t ease, call the doctor.

–Heat exhaustion means you’re headed toward heat stroke! (See the above listed symptoms.)  You may be dizzy, weak, and nauseated; have a rapid heartbeat; and be sweaty and chilly at the same time.  You need to get into a cool area, (preferably a hospital emergency room) immediately!  Cool down, drink water (about half a glass every 15 minutes), and get medical care if you don’t feel better soon.

Heat stroke always requires medical attention.  A person can die from heat stroke.  If you see any of the above exposure signs, get the person out of the heat immediately and call 911.

Sources:

1. Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety.  U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

2. Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stress: Avoiding and Treating Heat-Related Problems.  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

3. Summer Heat Safety Tips.  LoveToKnow.com.

4. How to Protect Yourself From Heat Stroke This Summer  Stack.com.