Most of us equate summer sun with summer fun. Endless hours spent outdoors swimming, picnicking, bicycling or just spending quality time with family and friends play a large part in our summer traditions.
But beware: prolonged exposure to summertime heat can also bring danger!
How Hot Weather Affects Your Body
In excessively high temperatures, your heart, skin and blood vessels work hard to adjust to heat-related changes. However, the human body’s natural cooling systems can easily short-circuit with prolonged sun exposure. The result is a higher-than-average body temperature; an accelerated heart rate; and slow perspiration evaporation, which further delays the cooling process.
Nothing is more disruptive than getting ill or being forced to make a last-minute trip to the hospital emergency room, when all you had planned was a day at the beach!
Don’t risk your health when the temperature rises. Be prepared, have a backup plan in place (such as an alternate, indoor activity)—and use it!
Getting Prepared With Health Insurance
Summer heat can translate into summer illness. Medical bills resulting from an uncovered trip to the emergency room when you don’t have health insurance can eat a hole in your wallet, suddenly making that trip to the beach much less affordable. So prepare for that outing with sufficient health care coverage before you head out the door…and prevent illness by watching for symptoms of heat-related maladies.
Common Heat-Related Illnesses
To remain healthy, it is important to heed your body’s signals when spending time outdoors in the heat. Young children and older adults are particularly susceptible to heat-related illness, so monitor them closely for signs of heat distress.
Several heat-related illnesses common in summertime can sometimes mimic one another, including:
- Heat exhaustion: Occurs when you spend too much active time in the sun without allowing your body time to cool off. Signs include cool, clammy, pale skin; heat cramps; a weak pulse; nausea; chills; dizziness; weakness or confusion. May also be accompanied by a headache or shortness of breath.
- Heat stroke: Happens when you experience the above symptoms of heat exhaustion, but continue to take insufficient measures to cool off or replenish body fluids. Much more life-threatening than heat exhaustion. Symptoms include hot, flushed and dry skin; lack of perspiration and a body temperature close to or above 106 F. You may also experience confusion and faintness.
- Heat cramps: Painful muscle spasms resulting from strenuous physical activity in a heated environment. Includes arm, leg and/or stomach cramps that occur when the body is depleted of sodium and water.
- Dehydration: Occurs when your body loses more water than it takes in. Signs may include dark yellow or amber-colored urine; excessive thirst; sleepiness or tiredness; dry mouth; decreased urine output; muscle weakness, headache; dizziness; a lack of sweat accompanied by shriveled and dry skin; low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat; fever or even unconsciousness.
At the first hint of any of these signs or symptoms, immediately: get out of the heat, drink a large amount of fluid, elevate your feet above your head and immerse yourself in cool water, if possible.
If symptoms do not retreat after a reasonable time, call for help-or head to a local hospital emergency room. Better to be safe than sorry!
Hot Weather Tips
Follow these tips to keep yourself and your family living healthy in the good ole’ summertime:
- Wear protective, breathable clothing including a wide-brimmed hat; light-colored, loose clothing; sunglasses; and cooling garments such as a wet headband or neckband. These aids keep your skin and eyes from being overexposed to the sun, and help keep your skin cool.
- Drink plenty of fluids—even if you don’t feel thirsty. (Thirst is not always a timely indicator of dehydration, and may not strike until you are already in trouble.) Water is your best choice.
- Apply sunscreen of at least SPF 15, and limit your time in the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to avoid prolonged skin exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
- Eat small meals throughout the day to aid digestion and keep your body from overworking. Heavy meals can also cause motion sickness, so eat light for at least two hours before traveling.
- Keep insects away using bug repellant and/or citronella candles.
- When picnicking, return any food not consumed within two hours to the cooler. This helps avoid bacterial contamination and possibly food poisoning.
- To ensure safety, keep small children away from hot grills and grills away from flammable materials.
- Take along a first-aid kit containing antiseptic, bandages and pain relievers to prepare in advance for any situation.
- Always wear a helmet when bicycling or skating. Make sure it fits properly and snugly with the straps buckled.
- Make sure all children know how to swim and are aware of the rules before jumping in the pool. Never allow them to swim unsupervised.
- Don’t forget your pet! Supply dogs and cats with two to three times the normal amount of water-and never leave them in a parked car.
Prepare for Summertime Heat—and Have Fun!
This summer, take the threat of danger from the summertime heat seriously. Then prepare yourself and your family ahead of time—and enjoy the season.
The lazy, hazy days of summer will be gone before you know it!