When temperatures rise during the summer, it’s important to know the risks associated with excessive heat and take precautions to stay safe and healthy. Be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illness, check on those at greater risk during extreme and prolonged periods of heat, and follow the tips below to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke – while also keeping our communities COVID-19 safe.
Symptoms of heat-related illness
The symptoms of heat-related illness can range from mild to severe. They include:
- Pale, cool, moist skin
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling, especially hands and feet
- Fatigue and weakness
- Lightheadedness and/or fainting
- Nausea and/or vomiting
More severe symptoms – including high fever, hallucinations, seizures and unconsciousness – require urgent medical attention. Call 911, move to a cool place, and cool the person with water and fanning.
Check on each other
Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness – but some are at greater risk than others. Please make sure to check the following people regularly for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke:
- Infants and young children
- People aged 65 or older
- People with disabilities, cognitive or otherwise, who may need assistance in monitoring their well-being
- Those who require ongoing medication for conditions such as heart or breathing problems
- People who work or exercise outside
- Check-in on those who live alone.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, relatives, friends, and neighbours should check in regularly with vulnerable people by phone or video.
Drink more fluids regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Avoid liquids that contain alcohol, caffeine or large amounts of sugar, as these are less helpful in keeping your body hydrated.
If you stay inside
If possible, stay in an air-conditioned place when you are indoors.
- Make your home as comfortable as possible.
- Close blinds and shutters during the daytime and open them at night. Open your windows at night to let in cooler air. If you have children in your home, make sure you’ve taken precautions to prevent falls from windows and balconies.
- If you have air conditioning, use it to take the edge off indoor heat — but don’t over-cool. Remember that circulation of fresh air is important for reducing COVID-19 risk.
- If you don’t have air-conditioning, take shelter in the coolest room in your home and use a fan. Blowing a fan across a pan of ice water can create a cool breeze.
- Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is above 37 degrees Celsius, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or spending time in an air-conditioned place, is a much better way to cool off.
- Cool showers and misting yourself and your clothing with cool water will help keep you from overheating.
- Try visiting a public location such as a shopping mall or library – even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
- Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing
If you go outside
- Seek cooler, breezier areas when outdoors, such as large parks near to water with lots of trees.
- Avoid crowded spaces and maintain a two-metre distance from others as much as possible.
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activities during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
- Take it slow with outdoor activities – try to rest often in shaded areas.
- Consider your neighbours: be respectful of pets and humans that need to rest/rehydrate in the shade at new locations temporarily.
- Be sun-safe and remember to protect yourself from the heat:
- Apply sunscreen to exposed skin, early and often, at least 15 to 30 minutes prior to going out. Minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) should be 30. Use it liberally and make sure to reapply often throughout the day, especially following swimming or heavy perspiration.
- Seek shade and keep skin covered as much as possible when spending time in the sun. The sun can burn and damage skin even on a cloudy day.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim.
- Children are more vulnerable to sun damage and heatstroke, so ensure their skin is protected or that they are in the shade. Infants under six months old should wear a UVA/UVB protective suit if spending time outdoors.
- Wear sunglasses, especially when driving or cycling. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) can cause cataracts and other eye diseases.
- NEVER leave children or pets alone in a parked car. Temperatures can rise rapidly in enclosed vehicles, becoming much hotter than the outdoor temperature.
Staying healthy in the heat – Government of Canada
Sun Protection – Island Health