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How to stay safe during summer heat

reading on the quad

The Quad is a great place to relax in the shade.

Summer is here and so are warmer temperatures! But that doesn’t mean you need to stay indoors all the time. Here is information to help keep you well and avoid heat stress this summer.

What’s heat stress?

Heat stress occurs when the body’s mechanisms for controlling its internal temperature start to fail. The body is unable to cool itself by sweating, resulting in symptoms ranging from mild to severe. In extreme cases heat stress can result in stroke, seizures, and even death. The following are the four types of heat-related illnesses listed in order of seriousness, from most serious to least serious.

  • Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related health problem. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature regulating system fails and body temperature rises to critical levels (greater than 104 degrees). This is a serious medical emergency! The signs of heat stroke are confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. If someone shows signs of possible heat stroke, call 911; move the individual to a shady, cool area; and remove as much of their clothing as possible.
  • Heat exhaustion is the next most serious heat-related health condition. The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, heavy sweating, and a body temperature greater than 100.4 degrees. Individuals with heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot area, given liquids to drink, and then taken to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment.
  • Heat cramps are muscle pains that are usually caused by physical activity or exertion in hot temperatures. Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Individuals with heat cramps should replace fluid loss by drinking water or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g., sports drinks) every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Heat rash is the most common heat-related side effect in hot environments. Heat rash is caused by sweating and looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. The rash area should be kept dry. Powder can be applied to increase comfort. Ointments and creams should not be used on a heat rash. Anything that makes the skin warm or moist may make the rash worse.

If you believe you might be experience heat-related stress, take action immediately. If you or someone you know may have heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately.

What factors contribute to health-related issues?

There are many personal and environmental factors that can contribute to heat stress. These include age, weight, degree of physical fitness, acclimation to the sun, dehydration, use of alcohol and other substances, and medical conditions. Each person is different as to how the heat will affect them.

Temperature, relative humidity, air movement, and the effects of radiant heat from direct sun exposure also exacerbate heat-related issues and can increase the likelihood of developing heat-related symptoms. Heat index levels greater than 103 degrees should trigger a heightened state of awareness and use of precautions. The local heat index for any given day can be found on just about any reputable weather website such as weather.com, accuweather.com, and noaa.gov.

How to stay safe and enjoy summer

  • Limit the time you spend outside on extremely hot and humid days, especially the time spent in direct sunlight.
  • When possible, avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day.
  • When outside, take frequent breaks indoors somewhere air conditioned. Additional ways to cool off are misting yourself with a water bottle, taking cold baths or showers, and using cold compresses.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing.
  • Remember sunscreen! Apply frequently, especially when sweating or swimming.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink small amounts of water frequently.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large amounts of sugar. These can speed up the negative effects of dehydration and can increase your likelihood of a serious heat-related illness.
  • Eat light, easy-to-digest foods.
  • Check in on friends, colleagues, and neighbors—especially those that may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
  • Never leave children, the elderly, or pets in the car for any length of time.

Sources: Environmental Health and Safety and the National Weather Service

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