Stop Making the Sun Your Worst Enemy — Prevent Heat-Related Emergencies

As the summer sun comes out, many of us are getting geared up and ready to enjoy the beautiful weather. However, in order to take full advantage of the warm weather, there are also many precautions we must remember to take. For one, heat-related emergencies are not uncommon during the summer months. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are both emergencies that can happen when the body becomes dehydrated with an increased body temperature.

The first step to avoiding such emergencies is, of course, to take the appropriate preventive measures. This means drinking lots of cool fluids throughout the day to prevent dehydration, wearing light or loose clothing to let air circulate and heat to escape the body, as well as applying sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. Sunburned skin is not only uncomfortable, but it is dangerous as it reduces the body’s ability to cool itself.

Sunscreen should be applied everywhere that clothing will not cover. This includes areas that are commonly forgotten about, such as the tops of our feet, neck, ears and the top of our heads. To apply sunscreen, follow the directions of application that are noted on the sunscreen bottle. Typically, sunscreen should be applied about 15 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every two hours or so. However, we should also be keeping in mind the activities we’re engaging in and remember to reapply sunscreen after swimming or lots of sweating.

Other preventive steps we could take include remembering to avoid being outdoors during the hottest part of the day, wearing a hat, and taking breaks in cool or shady areas to avoid being out in the sun for long periods of time.

Of course, it is also good practice to keep a first aid kit nearby and available no matter what outdoor adventure we embark on! To purchase a first aid kit, First Aid Plus offers a wide variety of various kits with different sizes which can be found online here: https://store.firstaidplus.ca/collections/first-aid-kits.

Furthermore, individuals who are more vulnerable should be monitored more closely in hot temperatures. For example, young children, elderly individuals, and those with chronic illnesses who may be taking medications can often become ill in hot or humid weather faster than the typical healthy adult.

Preventive Measures We Can All Take:
  • Drink lots of cool fluids throughout the day
  • Wear light or loose clothing
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher throughout the day
  • Avoid being outdoors during the hottest part of the day
  • Wear a hat
  • Take breaks and avoid being out in the sun for long periods of time
  • Pay close attention to vulnerable persons who may be more affected by the hot weather than the typical healthy adult
  • Keep a First Aid Kit nearby

In addition to preventing heat-related emergencies, it is crucial that we also stay vigilant and aware of the signs and symptoms should emergencies occur. Common symptoms of heat exhaustion include: moist or warm skin, headache, weakness and exhaustion. All of which should prompt care and close monitoring of the individual. However, in the case of nausea, vomiting, or fainting, such symptoms should prompt us to immediately contact emergency services.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion: 
    • Moist or warm skin
    • Headache
    • Weakness or exhaustion
    • Nausea 
    • Vomiting 
    • Fainting 

Contact emergency services immediately if any of the signs or symptoms listed in bold arise. 

On the other hand, symptoms of heat stroke are much more severe, including: dry or hot skin, seizures, coma, severe headache, altered behaviour (e.g. acting irritable, aggressive, or bizarre), and rapid or shallow breathing. If any of the above symptoms arise, emergency services should be contacted immediately.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke:
  • Dry or hot skin 
  • Seizures 
  • Coma 
  • Severe headache 
  • Altered behaviour (e.g. irritable, aggressive, or bizarre behaviour)
  • Rapid or shallow breathing 

Contact emergency services immediately if any of the above signs or symptoms arise. 

There are many actions that can be taken to help treat heat-related emergencies. For starters, it is important to remember that since our body becomes dehydrated as a result of increased body temperature, we need to replenish our fluids. In addition, we lose even more fluids when we sweat. Therefore, drinking plenty of cool fluids can help prevent dehydration and allow our bodies to regulate its temperature appropriately.

However, note that this does not mean we should not be drinking any kind of fluid. In particular, caffeine and alcohol should be avoided as they can cause dehydration instead of replenishing the water that our body is losing.

Other things that we can do to help treat heat-related emergencies include loosening or removing tight clothing to let our skin breathe. If there is any padding covering the torso, remove that as well.

In the case of heat exhaustion, for active cooling, we can pour water on the torso and fan the skin. Importantly, even though the skin may appear moist, we should avoid trying to dry the skin.

For heat stroke, we should engage in aggressive cooling by immersing the body in cool water, immersing the forearms in cool water, and also pouring water on the torso or fanning the skin.

To gain a better understanding of first aid procedures, a first aid course is highly recommended. First Aid Plus offers courses such as Standard First Aid and Remote First Aid, perfect for learning more about how we can strengthen our first aid skills in outdoor environments! For a full list of all courses offered, please visit: https://www.firstaidplus.ca/courses-all/.

Treating Heat-Related Emergencies:
  • Drink more cool fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Loosen or remove tight clothing
  • Remove padding covering the torso
  • Active cooling for heat exhaustion:
    • Pour water on the torso
    • Fan skin
  • Aggressive cooling for heat stroke:
    • Immerse body in cool water
    • Immerse forearms in cool water
    • Pour water on the torso
    • Fan skin

All of the steps to preventing emergencies may seem simple, but can often go a long way to ensuring everyone’s safety. Knowing how to recognize symptoms and also how to treat emergencies is extremely important so we can provide help when needed. By keeping in mind all the above safety measures and practicing proper first aid, we can stop making the sun our worst enemy and instead enjoy the summer season to its fullest.

Written By: Elisa Do – https://ca.linkedin.com/in/elisa-do