As we creep into July, the summer sunshine continues to beat down in full swing. While we love the beautiful weather, the summer months can bring a host of health risks, including overheating and dehydration. If you’re not conscientious about your body’s tolerance, the heat could create some real problems for you and your health.
Heat stress & common heat-related illnesses
The most common heat-related illnesses fall under the umbrella term of “heat stress.” Heat stress just refers to what happens in your body when you’ve been in the heat too long, which impairs your body’s ability to cool itself down. Heat stress illnesses range in severity from less serious (like a heat rash) to very serious (heat stroke). While anyone can develop heat stress, infants, toddlers, and adults over the age of 65 are at an especially high risk, as are those who are overweight, ill, or on certain medications. The Center for Disease Control has a great page, located here, that gives more information on these specific at-risk groups. Look for the “Protecting Vulnerable Groups from Extreme Heat” section on the right side of the page. Now let’s dive in to a few of the more common heat stress illnesses.
Nearly everyone has experienced sunburn at some point in their lives. We all know how it happens—you stay out too long in the sun, and your skin turns lobster red. What some people don’t know, however, is that sunburns can be much more serious—and painful—than a simple burn on the back of your neck. If you are out in the sun for extended periods of time without any sunscreen, your sunburn can escalate into second- and third-degree burns. Painful blisters can form, and your mobility can be limited. In addition, people who have had more than 5 sunburns in their life double their risk for skin cancer. That’s something we definitely don’t want. So, listen to your mother’s advice—wear sunscreen, and apply it liberally. If you do get a sunburn, just lay low until the burn goes away. Aloe vera gel never hurts, either!
Heat exhaustion is one of the more serious forms of heat stress. You can spot heat exhaustion in yourself and others by keeping an eye out for these symptoms: heavy sweating, cool, clammy skin, fast, weak pulse, nausea, fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, and/or fainting. To beat heat exhaustion, move to a cool place, put on cool, wet clothes, and drink cool water. Seek medical attention immediatley if you are throwing up, your symptoms get worse, or if your symptoms last longer than 1 hour.
Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat stress. Unlike heat exhaustion, heat stroke causes people to feel hot and dry to the touch. In addition, those who have heat stroke have a fast, strong pulse, and may feel dizzy, nauseous, have headaches, be confused, or pass out. In the case of heat stroke, you should call 911 immediately—heat stroke is a medical emergency. In the meantime, move the person to a cooler place, help lower their internal temperature with cool cloths, and do not give the person anything to drink.
How to prevent these heat-related illnesses
So, now that we’ve given some background on a few common heat-related illnesses, let’s get into the important part: how you can prevent them. The CDC gives a handy tagline to help you remember what you can do: Stay cool, stay hydrated, and stay informed. Let’s talk a little bit about what these each mean.
This one should seem a bit obvious—of course staying cool would help beat the heat! But for some people, especially those who live without air conditioning, it’s not that simple. If you live in an area without air conditioning, make sure you find a public place where you can go during seasons of extreme heat. Shopping malls, libraries, and movie theaters are popular options. In addition, you can avoid direct sunlight and dress in lightweight, light-colored clothing to help stay cool this summer.
Most people agree that staying hydrated is important, but not many people know exactly what that means. And it doesn’t help that data varies across sources. We’re all different shapes and sizes, and our bodies all function a little differently from one another, so we all require slightly different amounts of water to stay hydrated each day. However, the general rule of thumb is that you need at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. You can always drink more, though! Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, and always air on the generous side when it comes to fluid intake.
Local news outlets often give heat index warnings during their weather segments. Stay up-to-date on the weather patterns in your areas and where you can go to find heat advisory information. You can also stay informed by learning the symptoms of heat illnesses, which you already have (if you read the whole article)—congratulations! If you would like to learn more about extreme heat and how it can impact you, you can visit the CDC’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Network.
Hopefully this article has helped illuminate the subjects of heat-related health risks and how to avoid them! What are your favorite tricks to beating the heat? Maybe you have a nifty popsicle recipe or have a favorite brand of sunscreen. Whatever it is, we want to hear it! Tell us all about it in the comments below. From all of us here at SkyBlue, wishing you a safe and hassle-free summer!