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Summer Safety Tips: Heat Related Illnesses and Prevention

Though people welcome the warmth of summer after the long winter months, too much Texas heat brings its own hazards. Besides securing the swimming pool and firing up the barbecue properly, preparing for the heat should be a big part of summer safety. Below are a few health concerns that can come from the heat as well as some tips for preventing heat related illnesses.

Sunburn

Though it’s possible to get a sunburn during the winter, it usually occurs during the summer months when more of the body is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. With sunburn, the skin becomes red, hot and swollen. In severe cases, a person develops blisters, becomes nauseated, feels faint and has a fever. These symptoms usually appear about two to four hours after exposure to the sun, and pain often is at its worst 6 to 48 hours after the exposure. People who have fair skin, hair and eyes are most susceptible, although individuals with dark skin are not immune from the damaging effects of the sun and severe sunburn.

To help avoid a sunburn, wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 (some dermatologists recommend an SPF of 30), and cover up as much as possible when outdoors, with broad-brimmed hats, loose fitted clothing and sunglasses. Sunburns are possible even on cloudy or rainy days, since UV rays can penetrate a thin cloud cover.

A sunburn is a form of wound can be soothed with a piece of gauze or a towel dipped in cool water and applied to the area. Cool showers and soaks in cool bathwater are also helpful. Adding oatmeal or baking soda to the bath water enhances the soothing effect. After the shower or bath, pat the skin dry, and apply a moisturizer. Don’t break the blisters, for they can become infected. In severe cases, a doctor can prescribe pain medication or cortisone. Most people recover from sunburn after three days to three weeks.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are most often felt in the arms, the calves and the abdomen and occur because the person doesn’t have an adequate amount of electrolytes in their body, such as sodium and potassium.  Interestingly, many people don’t experience heat cramps until the evening or when they’re at rest.

A person can prevent heat cramps by drinking sports drinks, or drinks containing electrolytes, throughout the day if they’re out in the sun. When the cramps hit, the person should go to a cool place and try to rest comfortably. The muscle should be gently stretched and massaged, and the person should be given a sports drink, milk, fruit juice or plain water.

Dehydration

This is an excessive loss of water. Dehydration can be caused by heavy sweating on a hot day, and is dangerous for both young children and older individuals.  Symptoms of dehydration  include intense thirst, dry mouth, dark colored urine (or cannot produce urine), low blood pressure, headache and may get dizzy and/or confused. Dehydration can be prevented by drinking lots of water throughout the day. Children and babies can drink special fluids that contain electrolytes.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is having difficulty coping with the heat due to natural cooling mechanisms becoming impaired. Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are dizziness, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, intense thirst and/or headache. The person may also feel faint and their skin appear pale, ashen and clammy.

A person who’s suffering from heat exhaustion should be taken to a cooler environment and given about 4 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes to drink. Elevating a person’s legs will also encourage blood flow to the brain. In addition, remove or loosen the victim’s clothes and apply cool, wet compresses to their skin. Spraying them with water can also be helpful. The person should be watched to make sure they do not slip into unconsciousness or become nauseated, as these are often symptoms of a heat stroke.

Heatstroke

This is a much more dangerous injury than heat exhaustion. It’s a medical emergency, and 911 should be called immediately. With heatstroke, a person’s skin often becomes warm and flushed and they may experience a high fever while not producing sweat. One’s heartbeat and breathing often becomes rapid, and confusion may set in. In extreme circumstances, people can lose consciousness and/or have seizures.

If possible, a person showing these symptoms should be immersed in cold water up to their neck or splashed with cold water. Sponges or towels dipped in ice water should be applied to their skin, and cooling agents (such as sponges or towels) should be frequently changed until the ambulance arrives.

Other Summer Safety Practices

Besides keeping hydrated and being careful about sun exposure, make sure that the air conditioning system in your home or office is in good working order. The HVAC system should be checked well before the cooling season. A room air conditioner should have a snug fit in the window. Cover up the windows that get the highest amount of morning and afternoon sunshine. If there are pets in the house, make sure they are cool and well-watered. Keep a good supply of drinking water on hand, and keep coolers around the house. Learn about heat related illness prevention techniques, and check on your neighbors during a heat spell, especially if they’re elderly.

At Prime Urgent Care, we work hard to provide you and your family the highest level of urgent care. If you or someone you know starts to show signs of a heat related illness in which non-emergency treatment is needed, or immediate medical care is needed for any number of unfortunate summer accidents, please contact us or visit our clinic.

Walk-in patients are welcome, we remain open until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. during weekends, and our affordable rates benefit both insured and uninsured patients.