School’s out for much of the Santa Clarita Valley and that means that summer’s almost here. Temperatures have already reached the triple digits, sparking multiple brush fires in the area.
Keeping cool when temperatures reach their typical summer highs isn’t just about being comfortable, as dangerously high heat can result in heat-related illnesses, ranging from simple heat cramps to more serious heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year, almost every heat-related death and illness is preventable, according to the CDC.
“Heat is even more dangerous when it lingers for days at a time, especially when the temperatures aren’t dropping enough at night to give your body a chance to cool down,” said Dr. Wendy Ibarra. “It’s extremely important to take proper precautions.”
“We talk about this often,” said Dr. Bud Lawrence, medical director of Henry Mayo’s emergency department. “We live in a hot and dry environment, so it’s super important to be aware of it if you’re going to be outside.”
Those who are most are risk are older people, the really young and those with chronic illnesses as they may be more susceptible to heat-related issues and are typically the ones who can’t properly care for themselves, Lawrence added.
Regardless of your age, here are some tips and tricks to keeping cool all summer long.
Although this may seem obvious, Lawrence said drinking water can prevent almost every heat-related illness.
Sweat is the body’s way of self-cooling, so drinking water is the only way it can properly do that, Ibarra said.
“I don’t think we drink enough water,” Lawrence added. “What we see a lot in the emergency room is heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which is worse than (heat exhaustion).”
Lawrence suggests drinking water, Gatorade, Powerade or other sports drinks with electrolytes to stay hydrated during the hottest hours of the day.
“Do not wait until you’re thirsty to drink water,” Ibarra said. “Instead, drink at least two to four glasses of water every hour in times of excess heat.”
Plan outdoor activities at the coolest hours
“It’s important to be aware of what time of day you’re outside,” Lawrence said. “We’re a very active community here in Santa Clarita, and lots of people are doing lots outside, so they should try to do activities in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat.”
The sun’s peak hours are generally between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., so altering your pattern of outdoor exercise to avoid those times can help you avoid as much direct sunlight as possible, according to Dr. Cindy Uypitching, from the department of family medicine at Kaiser Permanente’s Canyon Country Medical Offices.
If you cannot change the time of your activities, scale whatever you’re doing down to decrease your level of exertion or seek shady areas, Uypitching added.
Use the air conditioning or fans.
When you get your breaks or downtime, try to take them in the air conditioning where you can cool off and rest your body, Lawrence suggested.
“And if you don’t have AC, consider a portable device,” Lawrence added. “Fans will bring down temperatures indoors.”
Make sure to point portable fans out the windows, so they push hot air out, and ceiling fans should be set to run counter-clockwise, pulling hot air up and out instead of just twirling it around the room.
If you don’t have access to air conditioning or fans, plan to spend the hottest hours of the day in public spaces, like malls, libraries or movie theaters, Uypitching said, or try storing some cooling things, like spray bottles with water or ice packs, in the refrigerator, Ibarra added.
“You can try storing sunscreen or lotion in the fridge,” Ibarra added. “Taking frequent showers with cool water can also do wonders to cooling you down, or applying wet towels to your hottest areas — both can help bring down your core body temperature and rinses off sweat.”
Wear weather-appropriate clothing.
Wearing lightweight, loose or light-colored clothing can significantly reduce the heat you’re feeling, both Lawrence and Ibarra said. Cotton will also keep you cooler than many other fabrics (this goes for bedding as well).
A hat can also protect you from direct sun and can keep you especially cool, if you pour some ice-cold water into it before placing it onto your head, according to Ibarra.
Uypitching also suggests wearing sunglasses that block out ultraviolet rays.
Sunburns can affect your body’s ability to cool down and can make you dehydrated, so make sure to avoid direct sun exposure without proper clothing or sunscreen and wear sunscreen every day, all year, even when it is cloudy, as ultraviolet rays can still penetrate, Uypitching added.
A sunscreen should block both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays and have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, according to Uypitching, and you should apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out into the sun and reapply every two hours as well as after swimming.
Don’t leave anyone or anything in a car.
Lawrence, Uypitching and Ibarra all advise not to leave children, pets or anyone else in a closed car as temperatures can quickly rise to unsafe levels.
Temperatures of the trapped air inside a car can reach more than 200 degrees, which can then quickly result in a heat-related illness.
Learn the signs of heat-related illnesses.
Dizziness, rapid pulse, nausea, headache and fainting are some of the common symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, according to the CDC.
Symptoms can still vary, so anyone feeling any type of symptom should immediately move to a cooler place, start drinking water and apply cool clothes to their bodies, but make sure to seek medical attention if symptoms worsen.
Use common sense.
“The most important thing is awareness,” Lawrence said. “We need to be aware that the heat is serious and have a healthy respect for it.”
If the heat is intolerable, stay indoors when you can and avoid activities in direct sunlight or on hot asphalt surfaces, Ibarra said.
Also, don’t forget that pets need protection from dehydration and heat-related illnesses, too.