For most of the United States, summer is brutally hot in late July and August. Depending on where you live, the late summer heat may spark violence thunderstorms, or there may not be rain for more than a month.
This time of year can be the most dangerous for the very young, the old, and simply for those individuals not acclimated to the heat. Temperatures combined with high humidity levels can cause the temperature to feel hotter than the thermometer indicates; this is called the heat index. It is important to be aware of the heat index because a person can quickly become overwhelmed by the extreme heat.
When humidity levels are high, a person cannot cool down as quickly as when the humidity is lower. We sweat as a way of cooling through the effect of evaporation cooling the skin. When the humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate as quickly. It is extra important to drink lots of water because profuse sweating dehydrates the body, leading to serious and often life threatening conditions.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most serious conditions that could result from overheating. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include fatigue, nausea, headache, excessive thirst, muscle aches and cramps, dizziness, fainting, slowed or weakened heartbeat, confusion, and drenching sweats, often accompanied by cold, clammy skin. Treatment involves moving the person to shade, giving them water or an electrolyte/sports drink, and seeking medical attention.
Heat stroke can occur suddenly and needs immediate medical attention. The symptoms include nausea and vomiting, headache, dizziness or vertigo, fatigue, rapid heart rate, decreased sweating, hot, dry, flushed skin, increased body temperature of 104-106 degrees F, convulsions, confusion, delirium, or loss of consciousness. Immediately move the person to a lying down position in the shade or air conditioned area. Do not give anything to drink if they are unconscious or incoherent. Immediately call for medical help, then try to cool the person down with water.
If you have to be outside for any length of time, here are a few tips to help you stay safe:
- Start out properly hydrated. Avoid consuming drinks that contain caffeine and excess sugar, as these are known to contribute to dehydration.
- Have a plan for the work you will be doing that includes working in the shade where possible, and allow extra time for breaks to rest and rehydrate.
- Schedule work for the coolest part of the day.
- Drink water every 15 minutes.
- Be aware of the ozone pollution level in your area.
- Wear breathable clothing appropriate to the work you are doing. Wear a hat.
- Protect skin from burning by wearing light clothing that covers your skin, work in shade (either natural or under an umbrella or canopy), or use a mineral based sunscreen.
Cooling towels have become a popular way to stay cool outside whether you are working, hiking, fishing, or just playing hard. They work via the evaporation process that occurs after you wet them and place them on your head or neck. Some manufacturers claim as much as a 30 degree F cooling effect.
It’s important to remember that young children and infants can quickly become dehydrated and overheated. Find activities inside where there is air conditioning during the hottest part of the day, or when ozone levels are high. Children do not always communicate well enough to let you know how they are feeling until it is too late.
Extreme heat is especially hard on the elderly and the ill. Health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, and liver and kidney problems can become worse as the individual’s body is stressed trying to keep cool; breathing may also become more difficult, especially when ozone levels are high. People with asthma or other breathing problems should use extra caution, as well.
Ways to have fun outside, despite the heat includes staying cool with water. Getting in a swimming pool or lake, or even playing with the water hose can cool you down quickly and provide multiple ways to have fun. Just remember that water hoses lying in the sun will be hot and the water that first comes out of them could be hot enough to burn skin; make sure the water is cool before spraying it on yourself or others. Besides going to a water park or swimming pool, lawn sprinklers, water guns, water balloons, and water slides are inexpensive ways to have fun in the sun.
Water misting systems do a great job of cooling an area, and can be installed either fixed or moveable. These are also nice for cooling the patio or areas where pets are. Don’t forget that animals can have trouble with extreme heat as well. Always provide shade, and water that is protected from direct sunlight. Fans can be used to move the air which will also help cool an area.
Serve your drinks cold. Of course, water and electrolyte drinks are always a good idea, but few things refresh like an ice cold iced tea. A little sugar in your tea will satisfy your body’s need for some quick carbs, but avoid the extremely sweet teas and drinks that will go down quickly but leave you thirsting for more. Refined sugars dehydrate you quickly leaving you worse off than before.
Limit alcohol consumption in the heat because alcohol also dehydrates you quickly, as well as upsetting blood sugar levels leaving you at risk of becoming overwhelmed by the heat.
Frozen treats are always a refreshing way to beat the summer heat. If you have never tried frozen grapes, I recommend you check it out. They are better than ice cubes in your mouth because they will not damage your teeth the way ice cubes can, and the sweetness of the grapes will surprise and delight your taste buds. Just be sure not to give them to young children as they can pose a choking hazard.
Homemade frozen treats made with fruit are the best because you can control how much sugar is in them. The natural sugars in fruit are more refreshing than processed sugars and are less likely to dehydrate you. Coconut milk makes an excellent frozen treat for several reasons. It not only has a rich and satisfying flavor, but it also has naturally occurring electrolytes to bring your body back into balance. Check out this recipe made with coconut milk, below.
Strawberries and Coconut Cream Pops
3 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
3 Tbsp honey or maple syrup, divided
- In a blender, combine the strawberries and 2 tablespoons of the honey. Blend until smooth, adding a tablespoon of water if necessary to encourage blending (this will depend on how ripe your berries are; juicy berries won’t need encouragement).
- In a separate container, whisk together the coconut milk and 1 tablespoon honey.
- Spoon the coconut mixture and the strawberry mixture into ice pop molds, alternating between the two.
- Freeze for at least 4 hours or until firm. Unmold and enjoy.
Always choose organic ingredients when possible.
Makes 10 popsicles
This is a good basic recipe that could be modified to include your favorite fruit. Other flavors such as vanilla or chocolate could also be used. Silicon molds are healthier than plastic ones and are easier to work with.
Beware of Ozone-generating Indoor “Air Purifiers”. (2006, March). Retrieved from California Environmental Protection Agency: www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/ozone_gen_fact_sheet-a.pdf
Ozone: The Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/airquality/monops/ozonefacts.html
Today’s AQI Forecast. (n.d.). Retrieved from AirNow: https://www.airnow.gov
Understanding Heat-Related Illness-Symptoms. (2015, March 20). Retrieved from WebMD: www.webmd.com/first-aid/understanding-heat-related-illness-symptoms