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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Staying Safe in the Summer Heat

Author: HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 7/5/2016 3:57:00 PM
Category: Public Health Preparedness;

For most parts of the country, summer brings lots of heat. Over the last few weeks, just about everybody has been feeling the heat. Cities and towns from across the country have been coping with heat advisories and trying to find ways to stay cool.

Some people handle the heat pretty well. They just need to remember to take it slow, protect themselves from sun exposure, drink plenty of fluids, and do their best to stay cool. But other people – especially young children, older adults, athletes, people with low incomes, outdoor workers, and people with certain medical conditions – are at greater risk and need to be even more careful.

By knowing how to prevent heat-related illnesses, spot the warning signs, and being ready and willing to act, you could protect your own health or even help save someone’s life.

Prevention promotes summer fun

Preventing heat-related illnesses is the best way to protect yourself and those you care for. Here are some things you can do to stay healthy when temperatures rise:

  • Spend time in locations with air-conditioning when possible.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Good choices are water and diluted sport electrolyte drinks (1 part sport drink to 2 parts water) unless told otherwise by a doctor.
  • Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
  • Never leave a child or a pet in a parked car - even if the windows are open.

Helping people with heat stroke and heat exhaustion

Heat stress and heat exhaustion are two serious heat-related illnesses. Although both illnesses are brought on by heat, but the signs and the treatment are a little different for each one.

Heat stroke is the most severe heat-related illness. Signs include a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit; hot, red, dry skin; rapid and strong pulse; dizziness; nausea; and altered mental status which can range from confusion and agitation to unconsciousness.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If someone is suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately and take steps to cool the person. Don’t give the person fluids to drink. Instead, get them into cold water – you could put them under a cold shower or cool them off with a garden hose. When help arrives, be sure to let responders know what you have done to help.

People suffering from heat exhaustion may experience heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale, and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; and nausea or vomiting. Early signs include muscle cramps, heat rash, fainting or near-fainting spells, and a pulse or heart rate greater than 100.

If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, help them rest and cool down. Apply cool, wet cloths to the body especially to head, neck, arm pits and upper legs near the groin area where combined 70 percent of body heat can be lost; and have the person sip water. They should remain in the cool location until recovered with a pulse heart rate is well under 100 beats per minute. If the symptoms persist, call a doctor.

Protecting your community

As air conditioning use increases, electrical grids can become overwhelmed causing power outages. In power outages, people who rely on electricity-dependent medical devices, like oxygen concentrators, may need assistance so check on family members, friends and neighbors who use this type of equipment.

Community organizations and businesses can help local emergency managers and health departments plan for the community’s health needs amid the summer heat – and other emergency situations that cause power outages – using the HHS emPOWER Map. The HHS emPOWER Map provides the monthly total number of Medicare beneficiaries’ claims for electricity-dependent equipment at the national, state, territory, county, and zip code levels.

Learn More

These tips can help you have a safer, healthier summer. To learn more about groups that are a risk for heat-related illnesses, check out the CDC Extreme Heat Prevention Guide.


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