By definition, summer is hot. But sometimes it can get dangerously hot. Extreme heat, which occurs when temperatures or humidity jump much higher than summertime averages, leads to heat-related deaths and illnesses across the U.S. every year. Some of these illnesses–such as heat rashes–are minor, while others–such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke–can become medical emergencies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several steps you can take to reduce your chances of a heat-related illness and stay safe during extreme summer conditions.
Dress Appropriately: Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Stay Cool Indoors: Stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. If your home doesn’t have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library—even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Also, use your stove and oven less to avoid making your home hotter.
Schedule Activities Carefully: Try to limit your outdoor activity to when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours. Rest often in shady areas so your body has a chance to recover.
Pace Yourself: Cut down on exercise during the heat. If you’re not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop all activity and get into a cool area immediately.
Eat Smart: Avoid hot and heavy meals, which add heat to your body.
Stay Hydrated: Drink more fluids, regardless of how active you are. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. If your doctor limits the amount you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot. Stay away from very sugary or alcoholic drinks, which actually cause you to lose more body fluid. If you have pets, provide them with plenty of fresh water either in a shady area or inside your home.
Get Informed: Check your local news for extreme heat alerts and safety tips, and to learn about any heat-relief shelters in your area.
Monitor Those at High Risk: Although anyone can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk, including senior citizens, infants and young children, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases. Check on at-risk adults at least twice a day during a heat wave, and closely watch them for symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent monitoring–and never leave them or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.
Know the Signs: Symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, two potentially serious illnesses, include the following: a fast pulse, a headache, dizziness, confusion, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, weakness, and high body temperature. If you or someone you know shows these signs during extreme heat, consult a medical professional right away.