Here’s what you need to know to stay safe and healthy this summer

Why It Matters:

  • Sun, heat, and water make for a fun summer, and taking precautions can help your health
  • Heat-related illnesses may result in costly hospital treatment and even death
  • Skin cancer is more common than all other cancers combined and estimated costs are $8.1 billion overall to treat each year

American Heart Association tkc.profilePicture Written by: American Heart Association | Transamerica
July 29, 2019

5 Min readClock Icon

Summer is a time to have fun in the sun , but you have to keep a watch on your health during hot weather.

Heat-related illness, dehydration, and sun exposure are among the most common concerns as temperatures rise. To prevent a potentially dangerous situation, here are some safety guidelines and numbers to know:

Heat illness strikes thousands each year

In 2016, it was identified that every year, more than 65,000 people visit an emergency room for acute heat illness, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extreme heat causes more than 600 deaths per year.1

Even when it doesn’t seem extreme, heat and humidity can take a toll.

“It doesn’t have to be all that hot for people to experience heat-related illnesses,” said Robert E. O’Connor, MD, MPH, professor and chair of emergency medicine at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville.

On one end of the heat stress spectrum are heat cramps, often linked to warm weather and overdoing an exercise you’re not accustomed to, O’Connor said. If these muscle cramps occur, take a break, drink water and find some shade or air conditioning to cool off.

Heat exhaustion, a more serious condition, may include an inability to maintain the same continuing level of physical activity, a body temperature around 100 to 102 degrees and dizziness, nausea, dehydration and rapid heart rate, O’Connor said. Try to cool down and drink water. But if symptoms worsen or vomiting occurs, get medical help.

Heat stroke (stroke that happens when a blood vessel to the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot2) is even more severe and may cause death or permanent disability. Heat stroke is characterized by a body temperature that may even exceed 106 degrees, trouble walking , headache, fainting, or fatigue, and neurological difficulties such as slurred speech or mental confusion.

“We take that very seriously,” O’Connor said, warning, “Seek medical attention.”

65+ and other risk factors

Those at highest risk for heat-related illnesses include people over 65, children under 2, and those with chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Other risk factors obesity, poor circulation, and prescription drug or alcohol use.3

While heat illnesses may occur amid outdoor summer fun, it can happen year-round and among those who work in extreme heat, O’Connor said.

Emergency room medical staff can assist with “evaporative cooling,” or blowing air and sprinkling water on a patient to mimic the natural cooling mechanism of perspiration, he said.

Keeping hydrated, by the numbers

Drinking one bottle of cold water for every hour in heat and high humidity helps keep you hydrated, O’Connor said.

Another gauge of fluid intake: If you’re outdoors and haven’t urinated in a couple of hours, drink more water, he said. Additionally, if your urine is clear, rather than dark, it’s a sign that you are likely adequately hydrated.

The National Academy of Medicine estimates that overall, men need 3.7 liters of water daily, or 15 eight-ounce glasses, and women need 2.7 liters, or 11 glasses.4

Symptoms of mild dehydration are feeling thirsty or experiencing a dry or sticky mouth; dry, cool skin; headache; or muscle cramps. Severe dehydration symptoms include dry, shriveled skin; irritability or confusion; dizziness; rapid heartbeat; rapid breathing; fatigue; and unconsciousness.5

Sun protection 101: Use 30 SPF or higher

Ultraviolet rays from the sun can produce a painful sunburn today and lead to skin damage and skin cancer over time.

To understand the importance of sunscreen, consider these worrisome numbers:

Each year more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans develop skin cancer by age 70, and the cost of treating skin cancer per year in the United States is $8.1 billion.6

A sunscreen’s SPF, or “sun protection factor,” refers to how long it will provide protection. The higher the number, the longer it protects from the sun. Experts recommend using sunscreen at level 30 SPF or higher when outdoors.7

Sun intensity depends on the time of day. Rays are strongest midday, so minimize exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ultraviolet light can penetrate clouds, meaning sun exposure can happen on overcast days.8

Keep in mind that taking certain medications may result in higher sun sensitivity, too, O’Connor said.

Swim safely, don’t become a statistic

Every day between 2005-2015, an average of 10 people of all ages die in the United States from accidental, non-boating related drowning. Drowning ranks fifth among the nation’s top causes of unintentional injury death.9 Worldwide, it’s the third leading cause of unintentional injury death.10

To stay safe, swim with a friend and keep a watch on one another, especially in oceans, rivers, or lakes where water isn’t clear and underwater obstacles may be present. Drowning can happen quickly and silently.

“It’s not always yelling for help,” O’Connor said. “It’s important to see someone early when they’re in distress.”

Consider learning CPR and be prepared to help in case someone is drowning. The American Heart Association recommends CPR rescue breaths along with chest compressions in cases of drowning.11

Animals and insects

Bug bites cause more health problems than you might think, and summer is prime time for bites and stings.

Mosquitoes, for example, are some of the deadliest creatures in the world,12 and both mosquitoes and ticks can spread potentially fatal illnesses to humans. Diseases from these insects have tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016.13

Mosquitoes can carry diseases such as West Nile virus and encephalitis and, in other countries, malaria. Ticks can carry Lyme disease.

Use insect repellant and wear cool but covering clothing where mosquitos and ticks are likely present.

Snakes are also active in warmer months. Usually, a snake is scared of you, so try to move away and avoid contact. In case of a snake bite, seek emergency medical help soon to have anti-venom administered if the snake is poisonous.

Dollars and cents and foreign travel

Finally, if you’re planning international travel this summer make sure you have the vaccinations needed for your destination country. A malaria preventive medication may be useful when traveling to a place where the disease is present, such as sub-Saharan Africa.14

Check to see if your health insurance plan provides coverage abroad, and what the procedure is for accessing medical care there.

Don’t forget to ask whether medical air evacuation is included. Medical transportation home from a foreign country can be expensive if you become severely ill overseas, O’Connor said.

If your regular health insurance doesn’t cover international healthcare, consider purchasing a low-cost, one-off policy to protect your savings in case you need care overseas. Otherwise, the medical bills could end up costing far more than the trip itself.


Things to Consider:

  • Aim to drink a bottle of cold water for every hour you are outdoors in heat and humidity
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to protect your skin from harmful effects of the sun, even on cloudy days
  • Use insect repellent to guard against bites from mosquitoes and ticks, which can infect humans with disease

This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.
 
 

1 https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/07/20/protect-your-heart-and-health-during-the-dog-days-of-summer

American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018.

2 https://www.strokeassociation.org/en/about-stroke?uid=1442

American Heart Association

3 https://www.cdc.gov/features/extremeheat/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018.

4 https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/07/11/we-all-need-water-for-a-healthy-life-but-how-much

American Heart Association, 2018.

5 https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/getting-active/how-to-stay-active-in-warm-weather

American Heart Association, 2015.

6 https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts

Skin Cancer Foundation, 2019. 

7 https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ask-the-experts/does-a-higher-spf-sunscreen-always-protect-your-skin-better

Skin Cancer Foundation, 2018. 

8 http://www.americanskin.org/resource/safety.php

American Skin Association, 2012. 

9 https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. 

10 http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drowning World Health Organization

World Health Organization, 2018. 

11 https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/07/12/drowning-can-be-fast-and-silent-but-it-can-be-prevented-too

American Heart Association, 2018. 

12 https://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/vector_ecology/mosquito-borne-diseases/en/

World Health Organization, 2017. 

13 https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/vector-borne/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018. 

14 https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/index.html 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.

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