Beat the Heat: Keep yourself healthy and safe throughout the hot summer months

Heat-related deaths and sickness can be prevented yet every year many people become sick because of being in high heat for long periods of time. In 2001, 300 deaths in the US were caused by extreme heat.

People suffer from heat-related sickness when their bodies are not able to cool themselves the right way. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But sometimes sweating just isn't enough. In times like these, a person's body temperature rises very quickly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other organs in the body that are needed to live.

Those who are most likely to become sick with a heat-related sickness include infants and children up to four years of age, people 65 years of age and older, people who are overweight, and people who are ill or on certain medications. However, even young and healthy people can become sick from the heat if they are physically active during hot weather.

During the summer, if you are playing outside or working, it is important to help your body cool itself to prevent heat-related sickness. Read on to see how you can prevent and deal with heat-related health problems.

To protect yourself when temperatures are very high, remember to keep cool and use common sense. The following tips are important:

Drink plenty of fluids

During hot weather you will need to increase how much fluid you drink. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. During heavy exercise when it is hot, be sure to drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour. However, remember not to overdo it. Too much water can also lead to a salt imbalance in your body which can cause serious illness, even death.

Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

Don't drink liquids that contain alcohol, caffeine, or large amounts of sugar - these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

Replace salt and minerals

Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. Your body needs both salt and minerals so they must be replaced. When you exercise in the heat, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage (like gatorade) can help replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Also, sports drinks have a lot of calories. You are probably fine with water unless you are exercising in the heat for an hour or more.

Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen

Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Sunburn affects your body's ability to cool itself and causes your body to lose fluid. It also causes pain and damages the skin. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (this will also keep you cooler) along with sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels.) Remember, sunscreen needs to be applied in advance. Continue to reapply the sunscreen according to the package directions.

Schedule outdoor

activities carefully

If you must be outdoors, try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours (before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.). Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body will have a chance to recover.

Pace yourself

If you are not used to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace slowly. If you feel your heart pounding, if you feel dizzy, or if you are gasping for air in the heat, stop all activity. Get into a cool area or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.

Stay cool indoors

Air-conditioning is the number one way to protect yourself against heat-related sickness and death. If a home does not have air-conditioning, you can help prevent a heat-related sickness by spending time in public places that are air-conditioned - even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Avoid taking truly cold showers or baths as they will cause your body heat to go up rather than down. Use your stove and oven less to keep your home cooler.

Use a buddy system

When working in the heat, watch how your co-workers are doing and have someone do the same for you. Too much heat can cause a person to become confused or faint. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call you to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone this age, check on them at least twice a day.

Monitor those at high risk

Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related sickness, some people are more likely to get sick than others. Check regularly on:

• Infants and young children (up to four years of age)

• People aged 65 years or older

• People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, trouble sleeping, or poor circulation, may be affected by extreme heat.

Visit elderly adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat sickness. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

Adjust to the environment

Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat wave, will be stressful to your body. You will be able to handle heat better if you limit your physical activity until you become used to the heat. If you travel to somewhere that is very hot, allow several days to become used to the heat before trying out any heavy exercise, and work up to it slowly.

Do not leave children in cars

Even in cool temperatures, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. Even with the windows cracked open, inside the car temperatures can rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes. Anyone left inside the car is at risk for serious heat-related sickness or even death. Children who are left alone in parked cars are at greatest risk for serious heat sickness, and possibly death. When traveling with children, remember to do the following:

• Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.

• When leaving your car, check to be sure everyone is out of the car. Do not overlook any children who have fallen asleep in the car.

• Remember to keep cool and use common sense:

• Avoid hot foods and heavy meals - they add heat to your body.

• Drink plenty of fluids and replace salts and minerals in your body. Do not take salt tablets unless under medical supervision.

• Dress infants and children in cool, loose clothing and shade their heads and faces with hats or an umbrella.

• Limit the amount of time you spend in the sun during mid-day hours (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and in places without any shade.

• Do not leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car.

• Check up on elderly persons and people with chronic illnesses during a heat wave at least twice a day.

• Provide plenty of fresh water for your pets, and leave the water in a shady area.

For further information, please see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/.

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