With the arrival of summer home cookouts, days at the pool, camping trips and other outdoor activities, the allure of summertime pleasures often comes attached to seasonal hazards in the form of heat-related illness and lightning strikes.
Fortunately, there are simple tips that summer fun seekers can take to heart that can go a long way in ensuring that summer outings are safe ones. ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser suggests some of the tips below as ways to help you protect your health, as well as that of your family -- and they may even save a life.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 3,442 deaths resulting from exposure to extreme heat were reported from 1999 to 2003 -- an average of nearly 700 deaths per year. But because heat-related illness can often worsen existing medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, the total number of deaths in the U.S. each year related to heat exposure may actually be much higher.
As heat-related illnesses are most common during the sweltering summer months, health officials with the CDC and the National Institutes of Health offer the following tips to protect your health.
1) Drink more fluids, regardless of your activity level, and don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Just be sure to avoid drinks that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar, as these can actually cause you to become more dehydrated. The exception to this rule is if your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills; if this is the case, check with your doctor to see how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
2) Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a shopping mall, public library or any other venue that does, as even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. If such air-conditioned venues are not immediately available to you, call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
3) Electric fans can provide comfort when it gets hot, but when the temperature is in the high 90s or above, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
4) Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and be sure to dress for the weather. Some people find natural fabrics such as cotton to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Light-colored clothes also feel cooler.
5) Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle when the weather is hot.
6) Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on infants and young children, people aged 65 or older, people who have a mental illness, and those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure.
7) If you must be out in the heat, limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Cut down on exercise during the day, and if you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage may be a good choice, as it can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Try to rest often in shady areas.