Summertime means summer fun in most households across America, and that means all of the classic warm weather activities like water sports, beach trips and theme parks, just to name a few. While these recreational pastimes are a lot of fun, they often take place in areas that are difficult to get help or first aid, and might even be several hours away from the nearest emergency service or hospital. This makes being prepared for heat- and sun-related illnesses vital to your family’s safety this summer.
Weather forecasters and health officials often use terms like “extreme” or “excessive” heat to describe weather conditions, but it’s important to understand that heat advisories are not simple warnings about bothersome heat or humidity and how they might affect your plans, they’re vital signals on how to stay safe in the hot weather. And of course, these precautions are even more significant when activities might be taking place far away from professional medical care, such as on a boat or a wilderness hike.
The science behind the summer heat wave
An increase in temperature is the obvious culprit behind many heat-related illnesses, but it isn’t that simple. A major reason behind summertime complications is the increase in humidity. As opposed to the drier winter, the summer is much more moist and humid in many regions. High humidity will cause individuals to feel much hotter than they would otherwise, and prevent the body’s cooling mechanisms such as sweating from working as efficiently as they should. While the summertime is more humid in general due to the climate, you will also see an uptick in humidity in the morning and shortly after a rain or thunderstorm.
Is the sun’s radiation actually worse during the summer?
Even if temperatures remain relatively low in your area, the sun’s UV radiation tends to be much more powerful during the summer due to seasonal orbital shifts. The UV Index, released for every zip code in America by the National Weather Service, measures the amount of skin-damaging ultraviolet rays expected to reach Earth’s surface. Rated from 1-11+, the UV Index is a great way to know when to be extra prepared with sunscreen and other protective measures. Ultraviolet radiation penetrates many solid objects, so it’s always necessary to wear sunscreen if you’ll be outside.
Who is most at risk?
Young children have much more trouble regulating their body temperature compared to adults, and you’ll want to pay close attention to any children who will be outside in the summer heat. Also, there are types of medication which can increase sensitivity to the sun, or make it more difficult to stay hydrated; make sure you ask your doctor about any medications or complications that might need to be planned for. And let’s not forget our furry friends; many pets regular their body temperatures differently than humans, and it’s important to keep an eye on any animals that might be outside during a heat wave.
What are the most common heat-related illnesses?
Heat Rash – Skin irritation and blisters caused by sweating
Sunburn – Burns from skin exposure to the sun’s rays
Heat cramps – Muscle pains and spasms from overheating
Heat exhaustion – Dehydration and fatigue from heavy sweating/exercise
Heat/Sun stroke – A medical emergency when body heat exceeds 105 degrees
What are some ways to prevent heat-related problems?
Stay hydrated. This means drinking lots of fluids, and the right kind. Steer clear of alcohol, and any coffees or teas that might have caffeine or extra sugar. Fruit juice can be a delicious beverage, but its high sugar content might not be the best option if water is available.
Eat for the heat. Eating small meals, low in protein, can lower your metabolic rate and internal temperature.
Wear loose clothing. This will protect your skin, and add a layer of protection for UV radiation. Loose clothing allows your skin to breathe and regular its own temperature.
Wear sunscreen. This should go without saying, but it’s always important to have sunscreen on if you’re going to be outside. Remember to apply 30 minutes before you’ll be in the sun, as this gives proper time for absorption. And don’t forget to reapply consistently and read your application directions. If you’ll be partaking in water sports or athletics, it’s likely a good idea to purchase sunscreen made to resist sweat and water.
Never leave a child in the car. Every year there are deaths from children being left in automobiles. Even if it’s only 70 or 80 degrees outside, a car can become superheated in no more than 30 minutes to an hour. And simply leaving the windows cracked won’t cut it.