Avoiding Heat Stress

“Summertime and the livin’ is easy”? Sure, when staying inside in the air conditioning! The bright, beaming sunshine is more than just an excuse to go to the beach. It can be a danger, if pushed out of mind. So take the time to re-evaluate some habits. Start carrying a re-usable water bottle, dress lighter, and make plans that are out of the sun to keep cool and keep “livin’ easy”.

Recognizing exactly when a little bit of sunshine has become too much is the first step to a healthier and happier summer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the symptoms of heat-related illnesses as follows:

Heat Stroke:

  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness (passing out)

Heat Exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting (passing out)

Heat Cramps:

  • Heavy sweating during intense exercise
  • Muscle pain or spasms


  • Painful, red, and warm skin
  • Blisters on the skin

Heat Rash:

  • Red clusters of small blisters that look like pimples on the skin (usually on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases)

It’s important to seek medical attention if symptoms last longer than 1 hour or get worse. The best way to cool down quickly would be to get out of the sun and apply wet cloths or take a cool bath if possible.

Certain lifestyles or pre-existing health conditions may add to an increased risk of suffering from heat-related illness. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), health problems that lead to a greater risk for heat-related illness include:

  • Heart or blood vessel problems
  • Poorly working sweat glands or changes in the skin caused by normal aging
  • Heart, lung, or kidney disease, as well as any illness that causes weakness all over or results in a fever
  • Conditions treated by drugs, such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and some heart and high blood pressure medicines; they may make it harder for the body to cool itself
  • Taking several prescription drugs; ask a doctor if any medications make it more likely to become overheated
  • Being very overweight or underweight
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages

Luckily many heat-related illnesses can be prevented. Just like applying & reapplying sunscreen will block out the chance of sunburn, there are preventative measures to take when out and about or at home during summer.

Keeping Cool at Home

Home is where the heart is, but it’s not always where the AC is. There are adjustments that are easy to make at home that will make summertime much more comfortable.

The Department of Energy advises closing blinds to reduce heat gain by around 45 percent. Installing an awning could even reduce heat by 77 percent.

Reducing lighting in general can also help, as electronics and light bulbs can generate heat. Try to steer clear of other appliances that may generate heat as well. Consider cooking a meal that doesn’t require the oven or stovetop, especially at the peak heat of the day around lunchtime. Consider a sandwich with cold cuts, some fresh fruit, or a salad. And yes, summer is the perfect time to indulge in some ice cream.

Staying hydrated is the biggest key to staying safe in the summer. However, not just any drink will properly quench that thirst. Water is ideal and the most effective at cooling a body. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) says that up to 60% of the adult body is water. So what does one need daily to keep the body functioning at its peak performance? The average adult male should be consuming 3 liters (3.2 quarts) of water per day and the average adult female needs 2.2 liters (2.3 quarts) per day (USGS). Keeping a reusable insulated thermos nearby can be handy for keeping track of how much water is consumed each day and keeping that water cold so it’s refreshing.

Keeping Cool Out & About

If home is too hot, the AC is on the fritz, and fans just aren’t cutting it, then it’s a good idea to escape to somewhere that has functioning air conditioning.

Consider seeing a movie, as movie theaters are kept dark and generally with the AC cranked up high. An indoor shopping mall can be a good choice whether window shopping or just going for a stroll somewhere without the blazing sun. The library is a great resource for a free escape into the world of books in a cool, relaxed environment. If all else fails, it may be a good time to visit some dear friends and family. Seniors Helping Seniors® in-home care services can be there to help, no matter what.

Dressing properly for the weather is also important. Lighter fabrics, like cotton, that can breathe are going to make a big difference in how much heat is retained. Also consider swapping out black and other dark colors that absorb heat for white and light ones. A hat or umbrella can provide a bit of relief and a bit of shade anytime and anywhere! These small changes will add up to a big difference when staying safe and staying healthy in the summertime.