Summer heat can be dangerous - even deadly - if you don't take the proper precautions. According to Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Health and Public Safety, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control, heat exposure resulted in more than 8,000 deaths inside the United States between 1979 and 2003. With such a startling statistic, it's easy to see why it's so important to be aware of the risks associated with heat and to know how to stay safe in summer weather. Find out how to properly prepare for and protect yourself and your loved ones from soaring temperatures.
Basic Summer Heat Safety Tips
Everyone should follow these basic heat safety tips in order to avoid the dangers of heat exposure. Keep these suggestions in mind:
- 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.
- Dress lightly, and when sleeping, use lightweight, breathable covers.
- 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 and in humid conditions needing even more.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and beverages that are carbonated or contain caffeine when temperatures are high, as they can lead to dehydration.
- Keep blinds and curtains closed from morning until the late afternoon to block extra direct heat from sunlight.
- Move your exercise routine to early morning or later in the evening.
- Never ever 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. Cars can become overheated quickly and when overheated become like ovens. It's never safe.
- Properly supervise children during outdoor play, being sure to monitor them closely and frequently.
- Seek medical care right away if you become nauseous, start vomiting or experience cramps.
- Stay on the lowest level of your home.
- 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.
- Verify that seat belts and car seat restraints are not too hot before buckling yourself or anyone else into a car.
Additional Tips for Elderly Persons
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 pal 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 Centers for Disease Control's Media Toolkit: 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.
The signs of heat exhaustion may include the following:
- Breathing that is shallow and fast
- Clammy skin
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of color in skin
- Pale complexion
- Pulse that is fast and weak
- Skin that feels moist and cool (when touched)
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 own with cool cloths. If rapid improvement isn't seen, call 911 immediately.
The signs of major heat exposure, also known as heat stroke, include the following:
- Extremely high body temperature (over 103 degrees F)
- Headache that is throbbing
- Lack of sweating
- Rapid pulse that is strong
- Red skin that is hot and dry (when touched)
Heat stroke always requires medical attention. If you see any of the above exposure signs, get the person out of the heat immediately and take them to the nearest hospital or call 911.
Learn More to Stay Safe
It's impossible to overstate the importance of continuing to educate yourself about ways to stay safe - and to keep your loved ones safe - during the hottest months of the year. Following the heat safety tips presented here is a good start, but there is more to be learned about this important topic. To learn even more about staying safe during hot conditions, see Heat: A Major Killer from the National Weather Service's Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services. It's also advisable to ask your doctor for recommendations specific to your health circumstances and geographic region, as well as participating in any local heat safety workshops that may be offered in your area.