Your Health

Tips to keep cool and carry on this summer

Mother applying sunscreen to daughter
Photo of Diana Doyle-Zebrun

Diana Doyle-Zebrun
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, August 4, 2017

When former U.S. president Jimmy Carter was taken to St. Boniface Hospital last month suffering from dehydration, it was a timely reminder that heat-related illness can strike anyone at any time.

Carter, of course, was able to recover and return to the Habitat for Humanity site where he had fallen ill. Nonetheless, his experience underscores the importance of taking precautions to ward off heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps and dehydration.

Conditions such as these result from exposure to hot temperatures, especially if exposure is prolonged, activity is vigorous and humidity is high. As a result, it is important to recognize the early warning signs of potential trouble.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Sun Safety Guide outlines categories of heat-related illness and the accompanying symptoms. They are:

Mild dehydration: Loss of energy; little urine or very dark urine. This is treated by moving to a cool place and drinking water. There is no need to see a health-care provider. When hydrated, your urine should be almost clear.

Heat cramps: Muscular pain or spasms usually in the legs or abdomen, usually occurring after significant exertion, are an early sign of heat illness. This is treated by moving to a cool place and drinking a glass of cold water every 15 minutes until you feel better. There is no need to see a health-care provider unless symptoms persist or worsen.

Heat exhaustion: Moist, cool, clammy skin, which may be pale or red in colour; headache, nausea or vomiting; dizziness; fatigue. May have low-grade fever. Move to a cool place, and lie down with your feet elevated. Drink a glass of cold water every 15 minutes until you feel better. See a health-care provider as soon as possible.

Heat stroke (which can be life-threatening): Dry, red, hot skin; drowsy, confused, decreased level of consciousness; nausea, vomiting; fever, shallow breathing; rapid pulse. This is a medical emergency, and 911 should be called. Move the person to a cool place, and fan and sponge with cold water. If the person is unconscious, immerse them in cool water. If they are conscious, give them cold water to drink. Remember, sweating is a sign you are hot and need to drink cool fluids. Not sweating when you should be is a danger sign for heat stroke.

It’s also important to remember some people are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses than others.

While everyone is susceptible to heat and high humidity, children (especially infants), teenage athletes, the elderly and people with a chronic health condition are particularly vulnerable. Older people are at higher risk of heat illness, as temperature regulation and physical functioning may be altered. Children normally have a higher level of body heat, absorb more heat, sweat less, and are less likely to drink sufficient fluids and adjust to hot temperatures.

If you are caring for a child or older person, ensure they are drinking cool fluids regularly. If you have a baby under six months of age, offer more milk than usual through breast or bottle-feeding. If your baby is older than six months, you may offer cool water.

It is also worth noting people taking certain medications may also be more vulnerable to heat illness, as are people who are overweight, and those with chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness or kidney disease.

There are, of course, some things you can do to keep cool this summer.

Here are few tips from the Sun Safety Guide:

  • For every 25 minutes in the sun, take a five-minute shade and water break.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol, as they may cause dehydration.
  • Where possible, plan activities during cooler times of the day. Avoid being outdoors or taking part in strenuous activities during the hottest period of the day, which normally occurs between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use SPF 15 or higher sunscreen to avoid sunburn. Sunburn interferes with the body’s cooling process.
  • If your home isn’t air-conditioned, cool down by using fans, spending time in the coolest room of your home or taking a cool (not cold) shower, bath or sponge bath. Try to spend some time each day in a cool place, such as an air-conditioned public building such as a library.
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently.
Diana Doyle-Zebrun is a registered nurse and manager of clinical and quality initiatives with Health Links.This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, August 4, 2017.

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