Staying Safe in Summer Heat

Young women sitting outside petting her dog.

Published July 8, 2020

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"Heat is a risk for all, but especially at the extremes of age."
Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine

In Western New York, we’re used to experiencing all four seasons (sometimes in one day), but extremely high heat can be difficult to manage even for those who love the warm weather.

“Heat exposure can be life-threatening,” says Robert McCormack, MD, president of UBMD Emergency Medicine. “Sweating helps people to shed heat. If someone is hot and stops sweating, gets confused or passes out, it is a medical emergency and an ambulance should be called.”

To stay safe in this type of extreme weather, follow these tips.

Stay indoors, preferably somewhere with air conditioning.

Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Drink at least eight, 8-oz. glasses of water a day, but consult your provider for the best recommendation for you based on age, gender and activity level.

Wear loose-fitting clothes that are light-weight, light-colored clothing.

Avoid strenuous activity, or high-energy activities, especially ones that may take place outside.

Watch for signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. (Scroll for more information.)

Avoid hot, heavy meals. Instead, eat light, refreshing foods to help keep you cool.

Be careful using electric fans when it’s more than 95 degrees outside as it could increase the risk of heat-related illness. Fans create air flow and a false sense of comfort, but do not reduce body temperature.

Beware of alcohol. It has a dehydrating effect and makes people less aware of the risks and effects of extreme heat.

Safety in the outdoors

If you need to go outside during the day:

Seek shade when outside and try to limit outdoor activity to when it’s coolest, such as early morning or late evening.

Take breaks. Make sure children stay hydrated and that they take breaks from the sun and cool off frequently.

Use sun protection. When outside, wear sunscreen (at least 30 SPF), UVA/UVB sun glasses and a hat wide enough to protect your face.

Use mosquito and bug repellent when in areas that may be more prone to have them, such as wooded areas or near standing water.

Protecting the vulnerable

“Heat is a risk for all, but especially at the extremes of age,” says Dr. McCormack, who is also professor and chair, Department of Emergency Medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

To help the vulnerable beat oppressive heat and humidity, Dr. McCormack offers the following tips:

  • Make sure elderly people remain in the shade or in the coolest area of the house or the apartment. Ensure that they drink plenty of water and have access to a fan or air conditioning unit.
  • Remember that many medications can put older people at greater risk. For example, certain heart medications like beta blockers, ace receptor blockers, ace inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics (which deplete the body of sodium) can amplify the body’s response to heat.
  • Check frequently on elderly family members and friends.

Knowing the signs of trouble

Extreme heat can cause several health issues and complications, so it’s important to know the signs of heat-related illness and how to respond to it.

HEAT CRAMPS

  • Signs: Muscle pains or spasms in the stomach, arms or legs
  • Actions: Go to a cooler location. Remove excess clothing. Take sips of a cool sports drinks with salt and sugar. Get medical help if cramps last more than an hour.

HEAT EXHAUSTION

  • Signs: Heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, fainting, nausea, vomiting
  • Actions: Go to an air-conditioned place and lie down. Loosen or remove clothing. Take sips of a cool sports drinks with salt and sugar. If someone is home with you, take a cool bath. Get medical help if symptoms get worse or last more than an hour.

HEAT STROKE

  • Signs:
    • Extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees) taken orally 
    • Red, hot and dry skin with no sweat
    • Rapid, strong pulse
    • Dizziness, confusion or unconsciousness
  • Actions: Call 9-1-1 or get the person to a hospital immediately. Cool down with whatever methods are available until medical help arrives.

Use these tips to beat the heat and stay safe. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing an emergency, call 9-1-1 or proceed to your nearest emergency room.

If you or your loved one have COVID-19 symptoms, or suspect you may have been exposed to COVID-19, nofity the 9-1-1 operator or call your nearest emergency room to inform them, along with your pending arrival.