How to stay safe and avoid heat illness this summer

Anita Harrison, Lake Regional Health System
Staying hydrated is key to staying healthy during the summer months. With lack of drinking water, a person can become dehydrated and develop hyponatremia, a deficiency of sodium in the blood. People can become a heat casualty and suffer from heat cramps, exhaustion and stroke. Studies recommend drinking at least a half-gallon of water per day.

June is giving us a string of scorchers. That means it’s time to refresh on heat safety.

“Days like we’re having now aren’t just uncomfortable — they can be dangerous,” said Michael Ledbetter, D.O., a board-certified family physician at Lake Regional Clinic – Camdenton. “Luckily, some simple steps can keep you safe and having fun this summer.”

Here are some suggestions on how to keep you and your family safe:

Be aware of the heat index. As any good Missourian knows, it’s not just the heat but the humidity that makes a day dangerously hot.

High humidity doesn’t just make the temperature feel hotter; it also makes it harder for our bodies to keep cool. Due to the excess moisture in the air, sweat is slower to evaporate, keeping us hotter.

“Stay aware of the forecast so you can plan ahead,” Dr. Ledbetter said.

Stay hydrated. In the summer months, people need more water because they sweat more. If you are outside playing or working, aim to drink one cup of water every 20 to 30 minutes.

“Get out of the sun and somewhere cool if you notice any signs of dehydration, such as headache, fatigue, dizziness and extreme thirst,” Dr. Ledbetter says.

Watch out for heatstroke. As the temperature rises, so does the risk of a heat-related illness, such as heatstroke or heat exhaustion. Even if the temperature is in the low 80s, prolonged exposure to the heat or engaging in physical activity outside can lead to heat-related illnesses. These illnesses occur when the body is no longer able to cool itself properly. Staying hydrated, taking breaks and wearing breathable fabrics are all good tips to reduce the risk.

Heat-related illnesses can develop rapidly and should always be taken seriously. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, fatigue, rapid pulse, nausea and excessive sweating. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which can be fatal. Heatstroke has similar symptoms as heat exhaustion but significant differences include an altered mental status, a temperature of 104 degrees or greater, loss of perspiration and hot, flushed dry skin.

“Call 911 immediately if you think someone has heatstroke,” Dr. Ledbetter said. “Move the person to a cooler environment, and try to bring their temperature down with cool cloths or a bath. Do not give the person fluids.”

Secure home windows. Opening the windows is a must if you don't have air conditioning or if you're simply trying to keep your electric bill in check. But keep this in mind if children are in your home: Every year thousands of kids in the United States are killed or injured in falls from windows. You can't depend on screens to keep children safe. Your best choice is to install window guards or window stops — especially on bedroom windows. You can buy them online or at hardware stores. Also, try to keep furniture away from windows to discourage kids from climbing near windows.

Wear sunscreen. Sunscreen protects your skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays, which are present even on cloudy days. These rays not only can cause skin cancer, they also can trigger wrinkles, skin sagging and age spots. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, has an SPF of 30 or higher and is water-resistant. Reapply often.

“Always take it easy during the hottest part of the day, and try to schedule any activities for the early morning or evening,” Dr. Ledbetter said. “Another important warm weather tip is to never leave kids or pets in a parked car, even if the car is in the shade or has the windows cracked.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Ledbetter, a board certified family physician, call Lake Regional Clinic – Camdenton at 573-346-5624 or request an appointment at lakeregional.com/appointment.

Sources: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Safe Kids Worldwide; U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission