Five tips to prevent heat illness
Summer is here, and we have already experienced some record-breaking temperatures. It’s important to be prepared and know how to avoid heat illnesses including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat fainting, heat edema (swelling of hands, feet and ankles), heat rash and heat cramps (muscle cramps).
These illnesses are usually caused by exposure to extreme heat or over-exertion for a person’s age and physical condition, and they are completely preventable. People at highest risk include older adults, infants and young children, and those with chronic illnesses such as breathing difficulties or heart conditions.
“It’s important to get to know the signs and symptoms of heat-related emergencies,” says Teresa McCormack, Registered Nurse with Occupational Health and Safety at The Scarborough Hospital. “Keep the communication channels open and keep an eye on your friends, family and co-workers. Remember, everyone feels the effects of heat differently. There are many factors that influence how our bodies react to heat. Don’t assume that everyone reacts the same way.”
Health Canada recommends five ways to prevent heat illness:
Prepare for the heat – Be aware of the local forecast to know when you should take precautions for extreme heat. Ensure your air conditioner is working properly. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, find an air conditioned place nearby where you can cool off on extremely hot days.
Pay close attention to how you – and those around you – feel – If you, or someone around you, is experiencing the following symptoms, it’s important to move to a cool place and drink lots of water.
- dizziness or fainting
- nausea or vomiting
- rapid breathing and heartbeat
- extreme thirst (dry mouth or sticky saliva)
- decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine
Stay hydrated – Cool water is the best liquid to stay hydrated on hot days. Ensure you drink before you feel thirsty. Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet can also help keep you hydrated.
Stay cool – Wear loose-fitting, light-coloured, breathable clothing. You can help cool your body down by taking cool showers or baths, going for a swim, or visiting an air conditioned mall or movie theatre.
Avoid exposure to very hot temperatures when outdoors – Plan to do indoor activities on extremely hot days. If you do go outside, try to stay in shady areas and wear a wide-brimmed hat. Sunscreen is also extremely important. Use one that is SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 15 or higher. It’s important to remember that while sunscreen does protect you from UV (ultra violet) rays, it does not protect you from the heat.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and is extremely dangerous. If you suspect someone around you is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 immediately, get them to a cool place and try to cool them down with cold water.