How to stay safe in extreme heat conditions this summer, tips to protect adults, children, and infants (2024)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.–While bright sunny days seem alluring, the heat can put many people’s health at risk.

Heat-relateddeaths have been increasing in the U.S., with approximately1,602 occurring in 2021, 1,722 in 2022, and 2,302 in 2023, a record for U.S., health deaths.

“Those at greatest risk for developing a heat-related illness are children under 5 and people 65 years of age and older, who have the least ability to regulate their body temperatures, as well as athletes and those who work outdoors for a living,” saidDr. Seth Gemme, FACEP, chair,Department of Emergency Medicine,Baystate Health. Also at high risk, are overweight people and others with chronic illnesses such as heart disease or high blood pressure, as well as those on certain medications.

According to Dr. Gemme, “extreme heat affects the body’s ability to safely regulate its temperature, often resulting in heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat cramps, cardiovascular and respiratory complications, renal failure, electrolyte imbalance, kidney stones, as well as having a negative impact on fetal health and preterm birth”.

He further adds “Sweating is the body’s natural defense to cooling itself. However, when humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly and resulting in a rapid rise of body temperature”.

Warning signs often in adults or children could include excessive sweating, leg cramps, flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, headache, confusion, rapid pulse, and a body temperature of 103° F or higher. If these are happening to you, get out of the heat and drink liquids. If you don’t feel better soon, Dr. Gemme recommends calling your doctor or visit your local emergency room as soon as possible.

“Infants and young children depend on adults to keep them safe and healthy during times of high heat, and every step must be taken to protect their young bodies on hot days,” saidDr. Michael Cronin Cooper, chief ofDivision of Pediatric Emergency MedicineatBaystate Children’s Hospital.

“Similar to adults, extremely high temperatures can cause children to become sick very quickly resulting in dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke which is a medical emergency. You need to diligently watch for symptoms that your child may have a heat illness and bring them to a cooler environment. Call your pediatrician for mild symptoms or go to your local emergency room for more severe symptoms,” he added.

The elderly also need to be closely watched.

“Since they are at greater risk from the ill effects of the heat, make it a habit to check on elderly relatives and neighbors several times a day to make sure they are safe and free from any signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” Dr. Gemme said.

Want to stay cool? Baystate Health shares some tips on how to beat the summer heat:

  • Dress for the weather– Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and a broad-brimmed hat when outdoors. Stay away from polyester in favor of cotton and linens which are better at repelling the sun’s heat. Also, consider wearing sunglasses and putting on sunscreen with an SPF 15 or greater.
  • Stay out of the heat– Avoid direct sunlight and strenuous activity outdoors. If possible, remain indoors. If you do not have air conditioning, consider visiting a location that does, such as the mall, a movie theater, or a library. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
  • Drink plenty of liquids– Begin drinking before you go outside and, if exercising, drink one quart of liquid an hour to replace lost fluid. Avoid caffeinated beverages, sugary drinks, and alcohol which can contribute to the loss of more body fluid. Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body that need to be replaced. A sports drink can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Also, if taking water pills, on a fluid-restrictive diet, on a low salt diet or have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions, consult with your physician before increasing your liquid intake. Avoid very cold drinks which can cause stomach cramps.
  • Take it slow and easy with athletic activity and working outdoors– Postpone athletic activity during high heat and humidity. Limit outdoor activities to the morning and evening. Drinking sports beverages can replace lost salt and minerals when you sweat. However, those on low-salt diets should check with their doctor before drinking sports beverages. If you work outdoors, in addition to drinking plenty of liquids and dressing appropriately, pace yourself and take frequent short breaks in the shade and know when to stop activity – if exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop all activity and make your way into a cool area or in the shade, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak or faint.
  • Eat smaller meals– Instead of the usual rule of eating three square meals a day, eat smaller meals more frequently on days when the sun turns up the heat. Also, avoid hot and heavy meals and high-protein foods which can increase metabolic heat.
  • Take a cool shower or bath to cool down

Tips to beat the heat for infants and children are similar, but with differences, according tohealthychildren.orgof the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Stay hydratedEncourage your children todrink waterfrequently and have it readily available—even before they ask for it. Take water bottles with you if you go out. On hot days, infants receiving breast milk in a bottle can be given additional breast milk in a bottle, but they should not be given water, especially in the first 6 months of life. Infants receiving formula can be given additional formula in a bottle.
  • Dress lightly–Light-colored clothing can help kids stay cool and prevent heat stress from excessive heat absorption; darker-colored clothing typically provides slightly better protection against sun damage to the skin. Also, try to choose loose-fitting clothing—ideally, that offers both adequate ventilation and protection against direct sun exposure. Clothing made with just one layer of absorbent material can help maximize the evaporation of sweat, which has a cooling effect (kids have lower sweat rates than adults). Be sure to use plenty of sunscreen appropriate for infants and children.
  • Plan for extra rest time–Heat can often make children (and their parents) feel tired. High heat can not only cause people to feel tired but may also contribute to irritability. Go inside regularly to cool off, rest, and drink water.
  • Cool off with water–When your child is feeling hot, give them a cool bath or water mist to cool down.Swimmingis another great way to cool off while staying active. Remember that children should always be supervised while swimming or playing in water toprevent drowning.

Dr. Cooper also would like to remind parents and caregivers that hot weather and vehicles can be a deadly combination for kids.

According to the National Safety Council, the number of child hot car deaths for 2023 was 29. So far, several deaths have been reported this year. On average, 37 children under the age of 15 die each year from heatstroke after being left in a vehicle. Nearly every state has experienced at least one death since 1998. In both 2018 and 2019, a record number of 53 children died after beingleft in a hot vehicle.

For more information visit Baystate Health.

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How to stay safe in extreme heat conditions this summer, tips to protect adults, children, and infants (2024)


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