Enjoying the heat without worrying about heat stroke

Know how to avoid heat-related illnesses when the temperature soars.

When summer arrives, many people are drawn outdoors to enjoy the sunshine and warm temperatures, but prolonged exposure to high temperatures can pose health risks. When sweltering heatwaves hit and heat warnings are issued, it's especially important to know how to stay cool and to stay healthy.

Dr. Louis Francescutti, physician and professor in the School of Public Health, provides some advice on how to stay safe during extreme heat, how to recognize heat stroke, and how to treat it.

When extreme heat strikes

  1. Stay hydrated

    Drinking plenty of water and a variety of other non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverages will help replenish fluids and essential minerals your body loses through sweating.

    "Caffeine and alcohol both have dehydrating affects, so it's best to avoid those," says Francescutti.

  2. Plan ahead

    Plan your schedule to avoid outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day. When you have to be outdoors, take precautions against the sun and heat with sunscreen and appropriate clothing.

    "Use a sun screen of SPF 30 or greater. Apply it at least 20 minutes before going outside and be sure to reapply it often."

    Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and light-coloured, loose fitting clothing will help to shield you from the sun, while keeping you from over-heating.

  3. Take breaks from the heat

    Spend some time indoors where it's cooler. If you don't have air conditioning at home, visit the mall or other public places that will give you a break from the heat.

    "Young children, the elderly and people with certain health issues are at a greater risk for heat-related illnesses. Check on neighbours, friends and family that are vulnerable. They may need some help to find a place to get out of the heat, "suggests Francescutti.

  4. Do not leave pets or people in a closed vehicle

    Just don't, ever. It's not safe for any length of time.

Watch for symptoms of heat stroke

Heatstroke may develop, even when taking precautions. Watch for signs, so you can take action quickly to avoid serious health complications.

  • High body temperature of 40 C (104 F) or higher.
  • Lack of sweat.
  • Rapid breathing and racing heart rate.
  • Headache, nausea and vomiting.
  • Altered mental state: confusion, disorientation, slurred speech, for example.
  • Fainting or unconsciousness.

Seek treatment when needed

If you suspect someone has heat stroke, move them to a cooler, shaded area; remove his or her shoes and any extra layers of clothing; and, cover them with a wet towel. Francescutti advises seeking medical advice from Health Link by calling 811, but cautions that serious symptoms may require emergency care.

"If someone has a temperature over 40 C, if they are lethargic or having seizures, call 911," he says.

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