Friday, June 08, 2012

Summer Safe: Tips for staying healthy in hot weather

With record-setting warm weather across the U.S. this year, we wanted to kick off our Summer Safe series with some timely information about beating the summer heat.

To get the scoop about hot weather safety, we sat down with Linda Degutis, DrPH, MSN. Degutis is the director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and she had a lot of advice about heat-related illnesses.

Though many people want to have ‘fun in the sun’ during the summer months, really hot weather can pose a dangerous threat to people’s health. As Degutis explained, “extreme heat can lead people to have very high body temperatures,” which could quickly lead to brain damage, organ failure or even death.

Degutis, a past president of APHA, warned about the two heat-related illnesses people should avoid in hot weather: heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is more serious, because your body can lose its ability to cool itself down and your body temperature can get dangerously high.

These are the symptoms you should look out for (click to view larger):

The people who are most at risk for heat-related illness are the elderly, young children and people with chronic medical conditions. Also, people who spend a lot of time out-of-doors, such as construction workers and landscapers, the homeless and those who exercise in the heat are at risk for the dangerous side effects of spending too much time in hot weather.

That’s the bad news. “The good thing about all of this is that we can prevent heat-related illnesses by taking some relatively simple precautions,” Degutis explained.
These include:

  • During very hot weather, stay inside where it’s cool. If you don’t have air-conditioning in your house, go somewhere that does: A library, a grocery store, an indoor mall. Communities may also set up cooling centers where people can escape the heat, so check with your local government. 
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Alcoholic beverages and sugary drinks like soda and juice can make you more thirsty, so stay away from those as much as possible in the heat.
  • You can still stay active and enjoy the outdoors, but consider saving your exercise or outdoor activities for the cooler parts of the day: morning and evening. Avoid being outside in the middle of the day when it’s hottest.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing, because dark clothes or heavy fabric can trap heat. Also, make sure you wear a hat and sunscreen — sunburns put you at higher risk for heat-related illnesses!
  • Sign up for free weather alerts via email or text, so that you’ll know if there is an excessive heat warning for your area.
  • Don’t forget to check on friends, older family members and elderly neighbors in very hot weather.

For more information about staying safe in hot weather, you can listen to the podcast of our interview with Degutis. We also have a full transcript of the interview, and we created a handy Healthy You tipsheet about staying safe in the heat that you can print and share.

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