July 5, 2010— -- 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.
Tips to Stay Safe From Heat Stroke in Hot Summer Months
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.
8) Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat -- an accessory which should also keeps you cooler. Be sure to also wear sunglasses and apply on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher; the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels.
9) Pay attention to the weather reports. You are more at risk as the temperature or humidity rises or when there is an air pollution alert in effect.
10) Headache, confusion, dizziness or nausea when you're in a hot place or during hot weather could be a sign of a heat-related illness. Seek out a doctor or an emergency room to find out if you need treatment.
Sources: CDC Extreme Heat: Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.asp); National Institute on Aging: Hyperthermia: Too Hot for Your Health (http://www.nia.nih.gov/healthinformation/publications/hyperthermia.html); CDC Extreme Heat: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/investigations.asp)
Summer Day, Gone in a Flash: 10 Tips for Lightning Safety
According to the National Weather Service, lightning strikes about 25 million times a year in the U.S. Over the past three decades, lightning has killed, on average, 58 people per year -- higher than the average 57 deaths per year caused by tornadoes and average 48 deaths due to hurricanes. And while documented lightning injuries in the United States average about 300 per year, the fact that many are never recorded make it likely that the true total is much higher.
Most lightning deaths and injuries occur in the summer so health officials and weather experts offer the following tips to stay safe.
1) If you are planning to be outdoors for a significant amount of time, know the weather forecast beforehand. Your best source of up-to-date weather information is a NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). You can stay updated with a portable weather radio if you are planning on being outdoors, or you can keep up to date through the Internet, TV or local radio reports, or through your cell phone.
2) Keep an eye out for developing thunderstorms. These storms are even more likely to occur in the spring or summer as the sun heats the air, causing pockets of warmer air to rise and form cumulus clouds. Continued heating causes these clouds to expand upward, forming towering cumulus clouds, which are often the first sign of a developing thunderstorm.
3) Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles from the area where it is raining, which is about the distance that the rumble of thunder can travel. Such long-distance strikes are sometimes called "bolts from the blue" because they can seem like they come from a clear, blue sky. These lightning strikes are rare, but fatalities from them have been known to occur. Therefore, if you can hear thunder, know that you are within striking distance. Seek safe shelter immediately.
4) If you must be outdoors on a day when rain is expected, plan your evacuation and safety measures in advance. This way, when you first see lightning or hear thunder, you can activate your emergency plan and seek shelter quickly. At the first clap of thunder, you should head to a large building or fully enclosed vehicle and wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before you to go back outside.
5) Once there is a hint of a thunderstorm, avoid water, high ground and open spaces. Stay away from all metal objects including electric wires, fences, machinery, motors and power tools.
Tips to Stay Safe From Lightning Strikes
6) If you find that you are outside and far away from shelter when a lightning strike occurs, crouch down and get as close to the ground as possible. Put your feet together and place your hands over your ears to minimize possible hearing damage from thunder. Try to stay at least 15 feet away from other people.
7) Even if you are indoors, it does not mean you are completely safe during an electrical storm. Avoid contact with water, and stay away from doors and windows. Do not use the telephone, and do not use headsets to listen to music until the storm passes. To protect electrical equipment inside your home, turn them off and unplug them.
8) Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge, are safe to touch and need urgent medical attention. Some deaths can be prevented if the victim receives the proper first aid immediately. Call 9-1-1 immediately and perform CPR if the person is unresponsive or not breathing. Use an Automatic External Defibrillator if one is available.
9) If you drive into a thunderstorm, slow down and use extra caution. If possible, pull off the road into a safe area, and do not leave your vehicle during a thunderstorm.
10) Boats, particularly those with no cabin, are dangerous places to be during an electrical storm. It is crucial to listen to the weather when you are boating; if thunderstorms are forecast, don't go out. If you are out on the water and skies are threatening, get back to land immediately and find a safe place to wait out the threat.
Sources: National Lightning Safety Institute (http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_pls/lst.html); National Weather Service: Lightning Safety (http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/overview.htm); National Weather Service: Lightning Risk Reduction Outdoors (http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/outdoors.htm)