With summer officially here and high temperatures taking root, it’s important to remember how heat affects the human body.
“Exposure to heat can be very dangerous,” said Pat McAuliff, Collin College director of fire science and emergency medical services.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an individual’s risk for melanoma also doubles if they have had five or more sunburns at any age.
However, a sunburn is one of the most simple issues to prevent.
“Sunburn can ruin a summer vacation, so protect your skin by wearing proper clothing and applying sunscreen thoroughly,” McAuliff said.
If possible, avoid sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the time when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
Most common in the summertime months, heat-related illness can be very severe.
“People suffer from heat-related illness when their body is not capable of compensating for the increase in temperature through cooling,” McAuliff said. “Normally the body cools itself by sweating. Sometimes sweating isn’t enough, and the body’s temperature rises quickly resulting in potential damage to the brain and other organs.”
To avoid these dangers, McAuliff suggests the best defense is also prevention. Individuals must assist their bodies in staying cool. To stay properly hydrated, people should drink plenty of fluid, regardless of activity level.
“Drink 16 to 20 ounces of cool fluid one to two hours before an outdoor activity,” McAuliff said. “And don’t drink fluids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar.”
Texans in particular should know the signs of dehydration, which can be mild, moderate or severe.
Symptoms include dry sticky mouth, tiredness, increased thirst, decreased urine output, headache or dizziness. While mild to moderate dehydration can be treated by drinking water or sports drinks, severe dehydration requires medical attention.
More serious conditions, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke have different indicators.
“Warning signs for heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, weakness, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting or fainting,” McAuliff said. “The skin may feel cool and moist. Move the person to an air-conditioned environment or shaded area, provide cool non-alcoholic fluids, and apply cool water to the skin. Heat exhaustion left untreated may progress to heat stroke.”
Warning signs for heat stroke include extremely high body temperature, above 103 degrees, red, hot and dry skin with no sweating, headache, dizziness and confusion.
“Heat stroke is a very serious condition,” McAuliff said. “If you or someone else is suffering from heat stroke, you should cool the body by spraying or immersing in cool water and seek emergency treatment immediately.”
Summer offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation.
“While heat-related illnesses are the most common, do not forget the risk of other injuries including burns and drowning,” McAuliff said.
Campers can practice fire safety following campsite rules for open fires and monitoring wind speed and direction. Even grilling outdoors at home can present hazards. For charcoal grills, never add lighter fluid to hot coals. For gas grills, be sure to close the valve on the propane tank after each use. Do not leave any grill unattended and keep children and pets away from the grill area at all times.
Water can be a great relief in the trenches of summer, but water recreation safety must be followed.
“At the lake, wear personal flotation devices when boating,” McAuliff said. “And supervise children in swimming pools. For small children, a designated adult should be close enough to reach the child at all times. Adults should not be involved in other activities such as reading, yard work, or talking on the phone.”
Take time to have fun this summer, but keep activities safe by taking all necessary precautions and staying hydrated.