Summertime in the desert can be brutal if you aren’t prepared for it. The hot sun and relentless heat can sneak up on you, and cause harmful effects – even fatal ones.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, though, the population most at-risk for emergency room visits and fatalities are the elderly population. Between 2000-2012, one out of every two Arizona residents who either died or showed up in emergency rooms for heat illnesses were older than 54 years.
But children are also very vulnerable to heat illness, especially when car travel is involved. According to the Safe Kids Worldwide Organization, heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children under the age of four. On average, every 10 days a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle, or about 40 children a year.
Here are some good rules of thumb to follow to keep you and your family safe from the sun this season.
Hydration & Outdoor Activities
The majority of heat-induced stress in Arizona usually occurs during outdoor activities. Help protect yourself and your family this summer from heat/sun stroke and dehydration with some basic precautionary measures:
– Drink water: Individuals who are outdoors in the summer heat should drink 1-2 liters of water, and those doing strenuous activity should drink up to 4 liters. Avoid coffee or alcohol, which will dehydrate you.
– Protect your skin: Always wear sun screen if you will be out under the sun for more than 20 minutes. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect the heat. Other options are hats or umbrellas.
– Take it slow: Try to keep strenuous activity during the cool morning times (between 4-7 a.m.). If you are doing hard labor during the hottest times of the day, take frequent breaks in a shaded place to cool down.
– Eat more, eat less: Eat smaller meals more often throughout the day. This keeps your energy up, but does not overwork your body. It’s advised to especially avoid protein (meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, beans) or fats, which can raise your body temperature as you digest it. And eat uncooked meals! If you can eat raw fruits and vegetables like a fruit salad over something cooked like a hot pizza, that will help keep your body temperature low. You can also use hot spices to keep you cool. Read about that here.
Child Car Safety:
- Never leave your child alone in a car. Ever. A car heats up twice as hot as the outside temperature, and is not safe for young children.
- Make sure to lock your vehicle, including doors and trunk, when you’re not using it to ensure that your child does not get into the car when you are not around. Keep keys and remote entry fobs out of children’s sight and reach.
- Teach kids that trunks are for transporting items, not people, and are not safe places to play.
- Create reminders for yourself to take your child with you when you get out of the car by putting a personal item such as a briefcase or purse in the backseat next to them. This is especially helpful if you are not following your regular daily routine.
- If you ever see another child alone in a car, immediately call 911. You may save a life.
- If your child is missing, get help and check swimming pools, vehicles and trunks. If your children are locked in a car, get them out as quickly as possible and dial 911 immediately. Emergency personnel are trained to evaluate and check for signs of heatstroke.
- Create a calendar reminder for your electronic devices to make sure you dropped your child off at daycare.
- Develop a plan with your daycare so that if your child is late, you’ll be called within a few minutes. Be especially careful if you change your routine for dropping off children at daycare.
For our older neighbors or family members, it’s as good practice to check in on them regularly during the hot season. Elderly people tend to not drink as much, so it is doubly important to remind them to drink water to keep them hydrated. Seniors are advised to stay in the coolest part of the house during the day with fans, or go out to a public place (library, or mall) to keep cool. To make sure air-conditioners are working at top-efficiency, we should help them vacuum, clean, or replace the air filter regularly.
So, with just a few precautions in place, you and your family will enjoy a safe and happy summer. Be well, everyone!
Originally written & published for Sun Life Family Health Center in Casa Grande, AZ.