With summer in full swing, New Englanders know to anticipate hot temperatures and the occasional heatwave. Although this is a great time to get outdoors, it’s critical to stay safe while temperatures rise. Heat-related illnesses – heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke – can have dangerous implications if left untreated. Learning to identify these illnesses and tips to avoid them can help keep you and your family healthy and cool this summer.
What is extreme heat, and why is it dangerous?
Extreme heat is typically defined as a prolonged period of heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees. While an individual’s tolerance for heat can vary, in extreme heat it becomes more difficult for your body to maintain its normal temperature, which can lead to serious illness. Even if the outside temperature does not seem particularly concerning, high humidity levels can increase the feeling and impact of heat.
Although heat-related illness is preventable, extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States. The elderly, young children and those with existing medical conditions are at the greatest risk of developing heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and heat cramps.
Heat exhaustion happens when the body is unable to cool itself down after physical activity in a hot environment. It’s important to know the signs of heat exhaustion listed below and move to a cool place to avoid the symptoms getting worse.
Heat stroke happens when your body overheats from extended exposure to heat. Heatstroke can damage major organs, including the heart, brain, and kidneys; therefore, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the symptoms of heatstroke listed below.
Heat cramps are involuntary muscles spasms likely caused by low electrolytes. Heat cramps can happen in the shoulders, calves, and thighs and can result from exercising or working in a hot environment.
Because many people don’t know the true dangers of extreme heat or may not take the warning signs seriously, they may not know that they are at risk before serious symptoms start.
Tips for staying cool
The most important step for staying cool when outdoors is drinking enough fluids. Excessive sweating, prolonged sun exposure, and high heat can lead to dehydration. Water, sports drinks, and other liquids are essential to keep on hand when planning to spend time outside.
Whenever possible, spend time resting in air-conditioned areas like cooling centers, public libraries, or a home with AC. If these are not available to you, a car parked outside with functional AC is also a useful place to cool down.
Consider scheduling your outdoor activities outside of peak sun time (between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm) to avoid the hottest daylight hours. Wearing enough sunscreen or protective clothing can also help prevent heat rash and sunburns, which only add to discomfort caused by high temperatures.
Heat-safe outdoor activities
Life doesn’t stop when the temperature rises, and summer vacation means that kids will be spending more time at home. Luckily, there are plenty of heat-safe, enriching activities that you can plan for the whole family.
Break out the water balloons – A summertime classic, water balloons are a great way to promote physical activity while staying cool. Water balloons are inexpensive, easily filled by a hose or sink, and can be used by the whole family. Water balloons can also be used to play games like tag, capture the flag, and hot potato. Be sure to keep the balloons out of direct sunlight to avoid having the water inside heat up.
Turn on the sprinkler – Sometimes, cold water from the hose is the only thing kids (and adults) need to stay entertained and cool. There are a variety of sprinkler heads that spray in different patterns and pressures, keeping your kids entertained and your grass watered.
Go to the beach – New England is known for its clean, fun, and family-friendly beaches, and the ocean breeze can provide relief on a hot day. If you want to stay local, take a day trip to spots like Gloucester, Cape Cod, or Salisbury. If you’d like to get out of Massachusetts, there are many popular seaside destinations from Maine to Rhode Island that are just a few hours away. Just remember to pack plenty of water and sunscreen.
Take a hike – New England is also home to great hiking trails, many of which provide shady resting spots. If you’re close to Boston, check out Blue Hills Reservation or Noanet Peak Trail. However, only hike in areas that match your abilities and inspect your body for any ticks after spending time in heavily wooded areas.
Build an umbrella fort – Encourage your kids to be creative and polish up their problem-solving skills by helping them build a fort using umbrellas, sheets, and other items. This allows your kids to be out of the sunlight while fostering a sense of imagination. After the fort is built, prompt your kids to think of fun scenarios that promote calm, quiet play. Just make sure the fort has openings on two sides so air can flow through.
Keeping your family cool during the hot summer months is paramount, and extreme heat is something that everyone should take seriously. Fortunately, there are many ways you can create lasting memories while staying safe.
About The Author
Atrius Health, an innovative healthcare leader, delivers an effective system of connected care for adult and pediatric patients at more than 30 medical practice locations in eastern Massachusetts. By establishing a solid foundation of shared decision making, understanding and trust with each of its patients, Atrius Health enhances their health and enriches their lives.