Patient Care

Beating the Heat: 3 Summer Safety Reminders

Jul. 17, 2023
iPR photo summer safety

Summers in Upstate New York are full of joyful activities like bonfires, pool days, and lakeside fun. While enjoying sunny days and warm nights, it’s important to remember to stay safe.

UR Medicine physician and professor of Clinical Medicine Dr. Louis Papa shares tips to help protect you and your family all summer long.

Heat Stroke vs. Exhaustion: Know the Difference

Early warning signs of heat exhaustion are fatigue, nausea, light-headedness, and dizziness. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone else, get out of the sun as soon as possible.

Additional symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Sweating
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Increased heart rate
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Excessive thirst

Heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature. Heat stroke is a more critical condition than heat exhaustion and requires immediate medical attention.

Signs of heat stroke include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lack of perspiration
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Elevated body temperature

Very young children and elderly adults are more vulnerable to severe reactions to heat-related illnesses.

“The heat-maintaining mechanisms that help regulate body temperature are not as effective when very young or very old,” says Dr. Papa. “If you have small children or are spending time outside with older adults, pay extra attention to them and seek medical help at the sign of any symptom."

What should I do if someone shows signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

If someone is experiencing heat exhaustion, get them out of the sun and the heat. Lying down helps you cool down, says Dr. Papa.

Apply cool compresses, cool blankets, cool water to drink, and if it’s safe enough for them, a cool shower.

If someone is very confused, only give them small sips of water. However, if you suspect heat stroke, do not try to give them water, as they could choke on it. Ensure the person understands your instructions before offering them water.

If someone demonstrates symptoms of heat stroke, call 9-1-1 or head to the nearest emergency department.

Safety First: Swimming and Water Safety

Whether at the lake, ocean, or pool, don't forget that water brings a new set of risks for children and families. Dr. Papa reminds us that swim toys are simply that: toys.

"Swim toys are not necessarily rated as safe to keep kids buoyant or from going underwater," said Dr. Papa. He recommends all folks wear a life jacket in the water, instead.

More water safety tips:

  • Use the buddy system. Even strong swimmers should have someone with them in case of emergency.
  • Be aware of your environment, including ocean and river currents, vegetation, water temperature, and shallow water.
  • Always swim sober.
  • Wear a life jacket. When participating in water activities and boating, always take safety precautions.

Fire Safety: Bonfires and Preventing Burns

There’s nothing like the smell of a summer bonfire, but a friendly fire can flare up in an instant if you aren’t careful. Here are Dr. Papa’s fire safety must-dos:

  • Placement is key: Make sure there is nothing nearby that can catch fire. Avoid wood structures and look out for vegetation around and above the flames.
  • Eliminate fall risks: Clear anything from the area that might cause someone to trip and fall into the fire.
  • Pay attention: There should always be one or two people monitoring the bonfire. These folks should remain sober and be attentive to the fire, all attendees, and all surroundings.

What should I do if someone gets burned?

Burn injuries should be addressed immediately. Superficial burns—those that have some redness and no blistering—can be helped by cleaning with cold water. The next day, those with a superficial burn should consider evaluation by their primary care physician.

If a burn is severe and shows signs of blistering, bleeding, or white or charred skin, seek immediate medical attention. If someone has a burn bigger than the size of your hand, with white or charred skin, bring them to the nearest emergency department or call 9-1-1.

If you’re enjoying a bonfire near woods, water, or tall grasses, another thing to consider is protection against ticks, mosquito bites, and other insect-related concerns.

Read up on the latest summer bug safety tips from our infectious disease experts.