As we move through the warmer months of spring and summer and even early-fall, we need to be more mindful about how we are affected by the combination of sun, heat, and humidity - and how to protect ourselves during these longer days and warmer times.
The key is taking precautions against overexposure to sun light and heat - and seeking help when necessary.
Here are a few practical tips from the experts that you can use when you are planning to be out in the sun and heat:
- Apply sunscreen before going outside to protect your skin from overexposure to the sun's harmful rays - even on cloudy days. Use sunscreen with a sun protective factor (or SPF) of 30 or higher and be sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours if you are perspiring. (If you have sensitive skin or a skin condition, be sure to speak with your physician or dermatologist about the correct sun protection for you.)
- Provide extra layers of protection to sensitive skin that burns easily, such as your nose, ears, or scalp. Wear a hat with a wide brim to keep your head cool and the sun off your face.
- Dress for the heat. Along with a wide-brimmed hat, if you are planning to be out in the sun during the warmest times of day wear light (light-colored) clothing that covers your exposed shoulder, arm, and leg skin.
- Drink plenty of hydrating liquids and avoid drinks with caffeine (such as coffee, tea, and some types of soda) or alcoholic beverages that actually take water from your body. To stay hydrated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds you to drink plenty of water before you get thirsty and don't drink "very sugary or alcoholic drinks—these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps."
-- But remember, before hydrating: If your liquid, salt, or sugar-intake is restricted for health reasons, be sure to consult your doctor about alternative forms of re-hydration. The CDC notes, "[i]f your doctor limits the amount you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot." In addition, "[i]f you are on a low-salt diet, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets."
- Pay attention to heat warnings and forecasts. Your local radio or TV stations will probably make a special announcement about the weather in your area and provide you with warnings about the excessive heat. When looking online forecasts, also pay attention to temperatures adjusted for humidity using terms such as: "Heat Index", "Real Feel", or "Feels Like" - as noted by NOAA: "As an example, if the air temperature is 96°F and the relative humidity is 65%, the heat index - how hot it feels - is 121°F." - (and watch for local air quality warnings).
- Use common sense and try to limit the amount of time that you are outside during the warmest hours of the day (10 AM to 2 PM in many areas). Walk or work in your garden early in the morning (before 10 AM) or after the sun is lower in the sky providing you with some shade. If you need to shop during the day, be aware of the additional heat and prepare accordingly by parking close to stores, using the shade as cover, and asking for assistance when loading your car.
- Stay in the AC. Move yourself into an air-conditioned area (or cooler place if you are staying indoors and still having trouble keeping cool). If you do not have family nearby who have air conditioning, try to get to a public place with air conditioning such as the local public library, your favorite restaurant, your local Council on Aging, senior center, shopping mall, movie theater, or your local place of worship.
- Don't rely just on your fan. As noted by the CDC, don't rely on a fan as your primary source of cooling when it is unusually warm outside - move to an air-conditioned environment. "[W]hen the temperature is in the high 90s, electric fans] will not prevent heat-related illness."
- Hit the showers when you are overheated. The CDC also advises to take cool showers and cold baths when you feel too warm or overheated.
- Don’t suffer alone. If you are feeling faint or ill from the heat, humidity, or sun, let someone know: call a friend, neighbor, family member, or even emergency services to help you get to a cooler area or assist you if necessary. And don't forget to check on your own family and friends (and pets) who may be outside in the excess heat.
National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Heat Safety Tips and Resources - https://www.weather.gov/safety/heat
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/ disasters/extremeheat/ older-adults-heat.html