It’s hard to pass up being outside on a sunny, summer day. But when temperatures are high, you have to know how to keep you and your loved ones safe in the heat.
1. Hydrate—Before You Go Outside
Kimberly Webber, CNP, ProMedica Urgent Care, said that hydration is key on hot days. “Hydrate before going outside with fluids that are good for you,” she recommended. “Water is the most important. Our bodies function on water and it keeps the balance of everything we need.” Webber suggested carrying a water bottle with you throughout the day to remind yourself to drink water, and recommended that parents or other guardians remind children to drink water when they are outside playing.
Katelyn Oostra, MD, a pediatrician with ProMedica Physicians, knows that kids aren’t good about chugging water, especially when they are busy playing. “Have water available all the time, and offer them sips here and there,” she said. Because kids are different sizes, there’s no specific amount of water recommended. Pedialyte (for young children) and sports drinks like Gatorade (for older children and adults) can be helpful for intense play or heat or if dehydration starts to kick in, thanks to the electrolytes that restore body fluids.
Webber added that drinks with alcohol or sugar should be avoided in high heat.
2. Watch for Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
It’s natural for kids to get tired from play, but if their energy level is sinking and they aren’t playing like they typically do, it may be a sign of heat exhaustion. “Heat exhaustion is when kids aren’t able to cool their temperature down enough to maintain a normal temperature,” explained Dr. Oostra. “Heat exhaustion comes before the medical emergency, which is heat stroke.”
Kids with heat exhaustion may be very sweaty, have bright red cheeks, start complaining about headaches or feeling dizzy. “That’s when parents need to pull them inside, get them into a cool place in the house, get some cool rags on them and give them lots and lots of fluids to prevent it from going any further,” said Dr. Oostra.
Adults can definitely get heat exhaustion, too, so don’t ignore the signs if you start feeling this way. Webber added that nausea, muscle weakness and cramping can also happen be symptoms of heat exhaustion.
“Heat exhaustion can move into a heat stroke, which is very dangerous,” said Webber. With heat stroke, children and adults may experience an altered mental state, confusion, mumbled speech, and dry, hot skin. “This requires medical attention; take action right away,” warned Webber.
3. Lock Those Car Doors
On average every year, we lose 37 children to heat stroke, according to Gina Veres, injury prevention specialist, ProMedica.About a third of these children get into a vehicle on their own. “They want to play in there. They close the doors, lock the doors, and after just a few minutes in that hot care they get disoriented and can’t even figure out how to get out,” explained Veres.
Because they are smaller and can’t regulate their temperature, “their little bodies heat up three to five times faster than our adult bodies,” said Veres. Keeping the doors locked will ensure that your little ones can’t get inside.
Of course, you never want to leave a child unattended in a car either. Even on cooler days, Veres said “it only takes 10 minutes for that vehicle to heat up 20 degrees more.”
If you’re out and about on a hot day, remember that the car will be hot when you return. Car seat parts, booster seat parts and seat belts will be especially hot to little fingers and skin. Veres recommends covering those parts with a white sheet or a small blanket so the sun isn’t beating down on them. If your child is older, feel the buckle first to make sure it’s not too hot for them. Window shades and windshield shades are also good, as long as they are the cling-on types that won’t injure the child if it falls.
4. Know When To Stay Inside
It’s OK to stay indoors when it’s very hot, and to take frequent breaks indoors. “If you’re going to go out, keep it short and outside of peak temperatures—10 a.m.- 2 p.m.—when the sun is at its hottest, especially for infants and toddlers,” said Dr. Oostra.
If sports keep you outside, see if coaches and athletes can accommodate practicing earlier or later in the day, when it’s not as hot.
And don’t forget indoor fun, too. “If you can, make sure you’re taking breaks inside. Go to the library or other public places with air conditioning,” suggested Dr. Oostra.
5. Don’t Forget Sun Safety Basics
In addition to staying hydrating and limiting time in the sun, don’t forget other sun safety basics like the importance of sunscreen and shade.
“Sunscreen is important,” said Dr. Oostra. “You will sweat more in the heat, so make sure you are applying every two hours.” Make sure you are using the correct sunscreen, too. Wide-brimmed hats and umbrellas can also help to provide shade from damaging rays.
Your eyes are also vulnerable to the risk of skin cancer form the sun. Protect them with sunglasses that block out 99-100% of both UVA and UVB radiation.
If you’re headed out on a hot summer day, remember to listen to your body and pay close attention to how children and older adults are responding to the heat. As Webber says: “Have fun and stay hydrated.”