The summer season and warm weather triggers an urge to be outdoors, but fun in the sun can be dangerous when the heat and humidity rise. In addition to sun burn, heat-related illnesses including heat stroke or sunstroke can send unsuspecting victims to the hospital. The human body keeps itself cool by allowing heat to escape through the skin and by evaporating the resulting perspiration. If the body cannot cool itself enough, the person could suffer from heat-related illness.
Heat stroke can progress from milder heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and fainting. Illnesses caused by overheating can become serious, and even deadly, if not treated. Exposure to heat kills approximately 400 Americans annually.
Everyone is susceptible to heat-related illnesses, with even young healthy athletes succumbing to it. However, those most at risk include senior citizens, especially those living along in non-air-conditioned environments; infants and children and people with medical conditions, especially those with heart disease and high blood pressure.
The classic warning symptom of a heat stroke is a body temperature that is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, but other symptoms include fainting, dizziness and light-headedness, rapid pulse, painful muscle cramps and spasms, headache, lack of sweating despite the heat, nausea and vomiting, rapid breathing, dry, hot and red skin and behavioral changes including disorientation. If you or anyone around you has any of these symptoms, 911 should be called immediately. As you wait for emergency services, put damp and cool cloths or towels on the affected person and have them lie down until medical assistance arrives.
Being alert to the symptoms of heat stroke is vital to ensuring your own health and safety as well as your friends and family. However, as Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and heatstroke is preventable. Take these preventative steps to prevent heatstroke this summer:
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activities. Whenever possible, reserve outdoor activities for the cooler morning and evening hours.
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. Wearing too much clothing or tight clothing won’t allow your body to cool down efficiently.
- Stay well-hydrated and avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. Staying hydrated helps you maintain a normal body temperature and drinking excessive caffeinated or alcoholic drinks can dehydrate, rather than hydrate, you.
- Eat smaller meals more frequently. Eating small, protein rich meals throughout the day keeps your energy level stabilized.
- Never leave children, adults or pets in a closed, parked vehicle. In the sun, closed car temperatures can rise from 78 degrees to 100 degrees in just three minutes.
For more information on heat-related illness prevention and treatment, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/extremeheat, The American Red Cross, www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave and the Mayo Clinic.
The summer months can be the most joyful of the year, so by following these simple tips, you can be assured that your summer is full of all the family fun that you had planned.
Ron Rabena is Division President of National Security Operations of AlliedBarton Security Services and serves as co-chair of AlliedBarton’s Safety Committee.