Emergency rooms see an increase in cases of heat stroke and dehydration this time of year.Children ages 4 and under are especially vulnerable to overheating because their bodies don’t adjust to temperatures as well as adults’, says Jay Kaplan, an emergency physician and spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians
Teenagers — whose sports teams often practice all summer long — are vulnerable as well, especially if they play outside when the sun is brightest.
Doctors offer this advice to stay safe in the heat:
•Check the weather forecast before heading out, noting both the temperature and the heat index, says William Brady, an emergency physician at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
•Avoid direct sunlight in the middle of the day. Schedule outdoor activities in the early morning or early evening.
•Wear loose, light-colored clothes and hats and use plenty of sunscreen. Babies under 6 months should get no direct sunlight, says pediatrician Jan Berger, assistant professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and chief medical officer for Silverlink Communications.
•Drink lots of water or sports drinks— about 8 ounces an hour when in the sun, Berger says. Don’t take salt tablets.
•Be especially careful if you or your family take medications for heart disease or mental illness; certain drugs can reduce the body’s ability to manage heat.
•Take frequent breaks in the shade or in air-conditioning.
Some heat-related problems are more serious than others. Heat rashes are the least serious problem, appearing as red, pimply spots in areas that tend to sweat a lot, such as the chest or neck, Berger says. People can treat a heat rash by cooling or powdering the area.
Sunburns are more serious. They diminish the skin’s ability to regulate temperature, Brady says.
If children are in pain, cool the skin with moist cloths. Be careful with cooling sprays, however, which often contain alcohol and can dry the skin even more, Berger says. Take sunburned children to the doctor if they are under 1 year old or if they develop severe blisters. Never pop blisters or cover them in butter (an old folk remedy). To treat less serious blisters, people can use an ordinary, fragrance-free moisturizer, she says.
Heat cramps, which can hit the stomach, arms and legs, are caused by electrolyte imbalances, Berger says. Treat them by simply resting in a cool place and hydrating with a sports drink.
Heat exhaustion can include cramps, as well as heavy sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, paleness, and breathing and heart-rate changes, Berger says. People suffering heat exhaustion need to bring their body temperature down by going to a cool place out of the sun, removing excess clothing and placing cool (but not very cold) towels on the extremities. Parents can also mist children with water and fan them dry, give them small sips of water or sports drinks, or provide ice chips to suck on.
Such patients shouldn’t drink too much, however, Berger says. If symptoms don’t improve with these steps, seek medical help.
Heatstroke is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms can include confusion, an altered mental state, unconsciousness and hot, dry skin, Berger says. Call 911 but do not give fluids, which can cause seizures, she says.