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Heat Illness and Ways to Prevent It

Helpful Hints for Summer Sun
Summer Toys

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Summer is here. Days are getting warmer. Hot weather can cause serious health problems. Some people are more likely than others to get sick from heat:

  • Seniors
  • People who are very overweight
  • People with illnesses, like heart disease, or diabetes
  • People taking certain types of medications
  • People on low salt diets
  • People not used to hot weather
  • Heavy users of drugs or alcohol

As a support person, it’s important to know the signs of the three major heat-related health conditions:

1. Heat stroke means the body cannot control its temperature. Warning signs include red, hot, dry skin, very high body temperature (more than 106°), dizziness, nausea, confusion, strange behavior or unconsciousness, rapid pulse, and throbbing headache. Heat stroke can cause death or disability if treatment is not given.

  • What to do:
    • Call 911 for immediate medical help.
    • Take the person to a shady area.
    • Cool the person off with a damp cloth, cool shower, sprinkler or garden hose.
    • Do not give the person fluids to drink.
    • If emergency personnel are delayed, call the hospital for further instructions.

2. Heat exhaustion is milder. The body doesn’t have enough liquids. Warning signs include heavy sweating, cramps, headache, nausea or vomiting, paleness, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, and fainting. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can turn into heat stroke. Get medical help if the symptoms are severe or if the individual has heart problems or high blood pressure. Help the person cool off:

  • Replace fluids with cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Rest in a cool, shady place.
  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
  • Go to an air conditioned place or sit near fan.
  • Wear lightweight, loose clothing.

3. Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms (usually the stomach muscles or the legs) due to heavy activity. If an individual gets heat cramps and has heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet, get medical attention. What to do:

  • Stop. Sit quietly in a cool place.
  • Drink clear juice or a sports beverage (i.e. Gatorade).
  • Rest during hot hours to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Get medical help if heat cramps do not stop after one hour.

Preventing Heat Sickness

When it’s very hot you can support people to:

  • Get Plenty to Drink: Drink more water and juice. Avoid drinks with caffeine.
  • Wear Light Clothing: Choose lightweight, light colored, loose fitting clothing. Wear a hat.
  • Use Sunscreen: Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
  • Stay Cool Indoors: Stay in an air conditioned area. Room temperatures should be between 68 and 85 degrees.
  • Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully: Be less active in the middle of the day and late afternoon. Never leave anyone in a parked car.

Too Much Sun!

A sunburn can take the fun out of a summer activity. Here are some tips that can help you and the individuals you support avoid it:

  • Wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 all year round.
  • Reapply sunscreen after sweating, or after swimming.
  • Wear a hat when you are out in the direct sun.
  • Try to stay out of direct sun between 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Wear loose, lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Some medications increase the risk for serious sunburn. Talk to the pharmacist if you are unsure about a medication used by someone you support.

Type in your zip code or city at The Weather Channel website to get a report about the need for sun protection in your area.

Water Safety

There are three basic rules for avoiding problems in the water:

1. Always swim with a buddy

2. Swim near a lifeguard.

3. Wear a lifejacket (Red Cross approved).

Summertime Fun

Everyone has things they like to do for fun in the summer. For example, swimming, picnics, going to a movie, barbeques, bikingor taking a trip. The best way to find out what the people you support would like to do is to ask. For people who don’t use words to communicate, you can ask others who know the person or try out some activities to see what kind of response you get.  You can also help find summer activities by:

  • Checking the local newspaper for a listing of activities and events
  • Calling your city’s Parks and Recreation Department or Adult Education about upcoming summer classes and activities
  • Contacting local theaters or museums to see if they havelow-cost programs, or if they need volunteers
  • Contacting parent support groups about group activities
  • Calling local athletic teams to see if they have programs or deals on tickets to sporting events


Last updated on Tue, 06/22/2010 - 17:16