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Surviving Summer

Follow these safety and first-aid tips and avoid calling 911 later.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

If you want to make sure your day at the beach is just that -- a day at the beach and not a trip to the emergency room, you'll want to start with a good eye for warning signs of common summer bummers, including heat stroke, bee and wasp stings, and other health woes that occur more often during this season.

That's why WebMD put together a guide on how to avoid many common heat- and sun-related catastrophes. We talked to an emergency medicine expert, a pediatrician, a skin cancer expert, and a toxicologist to make sure we didn't miss a thing. Here's what we found out:

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Heat Stroke

"Heat stroke is a big problem for workers who are overdoing it on the job and can't say, 'I have to cool down and take a break,'" says Sue Leahy, president of the American Safety and Health Institute in New Paltz, N.Y. Older people, too, are susceptible, especially in a hot apartment with no air conditioning.

Stay ultra-hydrated to avoid heat stroke, she says. "Water is OK, but Gatorade and PowerAde with electrolytes are far better because they help replace salt and retain fluid," she says.

Knowing the warning signs is also key to staving off serious trouble, she says. "The first sign is cramping in the legs, and if that occurs, cool off and drink fluid until it goes away because if you don't, it can progress to heat exhaustion and then heat stroke," Leahy cautions. "Cramping -- especially a cramp in the leg -- is a sign that the body is losing salt and electrolytes, and you really ought to heed it," Leahy tells WebMD. "Cramping and light sweating gives way to more profuse, heavier sweating, feeling lightheaded and maybe a little nauseous, and then you hit heat stroke, your body stops sweating, and can no longer cool itself," she says.

Another peril of heat stroke is that as the body gets hotter and hotter, your blood gets thick and sludgy and makes you more likely to have a stroke, she says.

Some of the signs of heat stroke include:

  • Red, hot, dry skin

  • Rapid pulse

  • Throbbing headache

  • Confusion

  • Dizziness

"Let the body cool down naturally in early stages of heat exhaustion, but if you miss the signs and it progresses, put ice packs on the groin, armpits and neck where blood flows close to the surface," she says.

Other ways to cool the body include immersing the body in cool water, placing the person in a cool shower, or wrapping the person in a cool, wet blanket.

Rules to Live By

"When you are sweating too much, it's time to come out of the sun," she says. I wouldn't do anything in the hot sun for longer than 15 or 20 minutes at a clip because the body can lose a significant amount of water content from sweating -- setting you up for heat stroke."

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