WASHINGTON, D.C.—Summer is officially kicking off, and heat-related emergencies are on the rise during the warmer months. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) shares suggestions to help everyone enjoy summer safely and recognize when heat illness becomes an emergency.
“Overexposure to the sun or heat can turn into an emergency faster than most people expect,” said Gillian Schmitz, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “Enjoy the summer and avoid the emergency department by preventing heat-related illness and knowing the signs of an emergency.”
Monitor the amount of time spent in the sun, especially for older adults or children. Wear sunscreen and loose-fitting clothing. Consider limiting exercise and strenuous physical activity to the morning or evening hours. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Spending additional time outside can lead to sunburns. Mild irritation or blisters from a sunburn can be treated at home or as directed by a physician. A sunburn becomes an emergency when it is accompanied by fever or chills, nausea or vomiting, or confusion.
Staying out in the sun too long can also result in heat stroke or other dangerous emergencies. Worrisome signs of heat cramps include muscle spasms in the legs or stomach. Treat cramps by resting in a cool place and giving small amounts of fluid, if the person is conscious. Do not administer salt tablets and check for signs of heat-related illness.
Early signs of heat illness include cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin, headache, lightheadedness, or weakness. People with these symptoms should immediately rest in a cool place, drink non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated fluids, and apply a cool wet cloth or water mist. For continued or worsening heat-related symptoms and illness, a person can be cooled by placing cold packs on wrists and ankles, the groin area, neck, and armpits.
Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention when symptoms include pale skin, rapid pulse, nausea or vomiting, confusion, loss of consciousness, or high body temperature. If the person becomes unconscious, administer CPR if trained to do so.
Whether traveling or running errands in the hot sun, never leave a child or pet unattended in a hot car. Temperatures inside a vehicle, even with the window cracked open, can soar to dangerous levels in only minutes.
“Many heat emergencies are preventable,” said Dr. Schmitz. “Drink plenty of water, and take breaks from the sun when the day’s plans include significant time outside. If a medical crisis occurs, emergency physicians are ready to care for you.”