This Summer, Stay Safe by Keeping Cool

Summer is here and our goal is to find the best way to spend it. Festivals, traveling, the beach, boating, hiking… the possibilities are endless. But the key to a great summer is to think cool.

As temperatures outside rise, it’s important to stay hydrated and stay cool. Last summer (May to September) in Virginia, 2,656 people visited an emergency department (ED) with heat-related illness. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), heat was the top cause of weather-related fatalities in 2023. According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), approximately 1,220 people in the United States die annually from extreme heat.

And this summer is predicted to be warmer than average. In fact, EDs have already seen 869 cases (vs. 275 for the same period in 2023) of heat-related illness as of June 24.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion occur when your body is unable to cool itself. Humidity plays a big factor in your body’s ability to release heat. The higher the humidity, the slower your sweat evaporates. Additionally, age, weight, heart disease, poor circulation, alcohol, sunburn, and prescription drugs play a factor in how quickly your body can cool itself.

You can beat the heat with these tips:

  • Stay HydratedDrinking water is one of the most important and easiest way to prevent heat-related illnesses. Start drinking water before you go out in the heat and continue throughout the day. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Avoid energy drinks and alcohol. Alcohol causes dehydration and the high levels of caffeine in energy drinks can strain your heart.
  • Stay Cool – The easiest way to keep cool is to stay inside in the air conditioning. Fans are helpful but are ineffective in extreme heat. Don’t have a/c? Visit an indoor mall or head to the movies. If outside, stay in the shade as much as possible. Limit use of heat-producing appliances like the dryer, stove, or oven.
  • Limit Physical Activity – Schedule your outdoor activities for the coolest times of the day – early morning or evening. When outside, pace yourself. Start slow and pick up your pace gradually. You may not be able to do the activities (running, hiking) at the same pace as a cooler day. Take frequent breaks in the shade.
  • Dress Appropriately – Loose, lightweight clothing is the best way to dress for the heat. Light-colored and breathable fabrics will be more comfortable. Wear sunscreen (SPS 15 or higher), glasses, and a sun hat for protection. Reapply sunscreen often.
  • Stay Informed – Before heading outside make sure you are aware of any weather and heat advisories. Know the difference between a heat watch and a heat warning. The CDC Heat & Health Tracker provides local heat and health information for you to better prepare for and respond to extreme heat events in your community.
  • Check on Others – The heat can affect people differently. People 65 and older, children younger than two, and people with chronic diseases or mental illness are at a higher risk. Keep a close eye on your friends and neighbors. Do not leave children or pets in cars. Temperatures inside the car can rise almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked. Make sure pets have plenty of water and shade.

If you, or someone you care, for develop symptoms of a heat-related illness, it’s important that you recognize the signs and know how to treat the symptoms or get additional help.

Individual suffering from heat-related illness might experience any of the following symptoms to include muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, dizziness, rash, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating or no sweating, high body temperature, and decreased urine output.

Knowing what to do might save your life or that of a loved one.

  • Get the individual to a cooler place immediately.
  • Cool the individual’s body temperature with a cold water or ice bath, if possible. If not, place cold compresses on the forehead, at the back of the neck, under the arms and in the groin area where large blood vessels lie close to the skin surface.
  • Remove unnecessary clothing and/or soak clothing in cold water.
  • Encourage sips of cold water.
  • Circulate the air around the individual. Fan them.

If symptoms persist for more than an hour or get worse, seek medical attention immediately.

If an individual, loses consciousness, has a fast, strong pulse, hot, red skin and/or temperatures of 103° F, call 911 immediately. Heat stroke is an emergency.

If you keep these tips in mind, you, your family, and friends can have a safe, cool summer. Remember that your local health department can be a resource for summer safety.

Have a healthy, happy, and safe summer!