Protect Your Children and Family from the Summer Heat
From 1979 -2002, excessive heat exposure caused 8,966 deaths in the United States. During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes
, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. Because most heat-related deaths occur during the summer, and because weather projections for this year indicate a hotter-than-average summer, people should be aware of who is at greatest risk and what actions can be taken to prevent a heat-related illness or death. At greater risk are the elderly, children, and people with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease. However, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather as a result of dehydration and increased body temperature.
Some behaviors also put people at greater risk: drinking alcohol; taking part in strenuous outdoor physical activities in hot weather, and taking medications that impair the body's ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit the natural body cooling mechanism, sweating.
Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. If a home is not air-conditioned, people can reduce their risk for heat-related illness by spending time in public facilities that are air-conditioned.
The best defense against heat is prevention
Here are some prevention tips:
- Drink more water regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
- Don't drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, 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.
- 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.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, preferably cotton.
- NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.
- Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:
- Infants and young children
- People aged 65 or older
- People who have a mental illness
- Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure
- Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.
If you or your children must be out in the heat:
- Limit your outdoor activity to morning and late afternoon.
- Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of water each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you and your children lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Remember the warning in the first "tip" (above), too.
- Try to rest often in shady areas.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels).