Heat Safety

Today is the first day of Memorial Day weekend, the official open to the beach season!

It is also National Heat Awareness Day.  According to the Center for Disease Control, thousands of people become sick due to heat exposure and more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year.  As we enjoy the return to warmer weather, it’s important to remember that summer is coming. Everyone needs to be aware of the dangers that heat spells can bring.

We can all take precaution to care for ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors and our pets.

  • Drink plenty of liquids. This is important—even if you don’t feel thirsty. Dehydration is one of the first steps to more severe heat problems.  Avoid alcohol, caffeine or sugary drinks as they can contribute to dehydration. High-water fruits, such as watermelon, or juice popsicles can also help to keep you hydrated.
  • Avoid Hot and Heavy Meals. Cooking a large, hot meal adds heat to the house, but they can also add heat to your body.
  • Wear appropriate clothes. Light, loose clothing is more comfortable and helps us stay cool when it’s hot and sticky, and a wide-brimmed hat helps protect from the sun.
  • Stay indoors during mid-day hours. When possible, stay out of the sun late morning through late afternoon.
  • Protect yourself from sunburn with clothing and high-SPF sunscreen. In addition to the many risks of over-exposure to the sun, a sunburn can increase the chances of dehydration and is simply an added misery during a heat wave.  Umbrellas do not adequately protect from sunburn.  A study in JAMA Dermatology showed that a high-SPF sunscreen gives better protection than sitting under an umbrella without sunscreen.
  • Take it easy. If you have visited or lived in the southern U.S. in the summer, you know that life slows down when it gets hot. There’s a good reason for this slow down.  Extreme heat demands that we slow down.
  • Watch the heat index. The heat index looks at temperature and humidity and tells us how hot it “feels.” When the humidity is higher, it seems hotter, and it’s harder to cool down.
  • Know the warning signs of heat-related illness. If you are or have been out in the heat and you don’t feel well, take this seriously.  Drink some cool water, sit in a cool shaded spot, or take a cool shower.  If you don’t begin to feel better, or if you experience dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting or breathing problems, help should be sought immediately.

It’s important to remember that seniors are more susceptible to heat injuries or illness.  Older people account for a high number of heat-related hospitalizations and deaths.   There are many reasons for this vulnerability.  Health problems, such as heart disease, can make it more difficult for the body to cool down. Medications, like diuretics (water pills), can worsen the dehydrating effects of high temperatures. An elderly person may not even be aware of being thirsty or feeling too hot, especially if suffering from dementia or diabetes, which can diminish sensation.

So, it’s important to keep in touch with the older people in our lives during a heat wave.  Even if they have air conditioning, the A/C could break down or the power could go out.  Things can go wrong.