Summer is here and so is the heat

Published 4:55 pm Friday, June 21, 2024

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As I write this week’s column, summer is officially beginning and it’s bringing the heat with it.

The forecast includes a lot of 90+ temperatures over the next few days. We might have been lucky back in May when we had lots of pleasantly warm days with hardly any humidity. But our luck seems to have run out as we get closer to the end of June. More humidity. More heat. And practically no rain in sight.

We are in Mother Nature’s oven now.

Though most of us are used to North Carolina’s uncomfortable heat and sticky humidity every summer, we are unfortunately not immune to its effects. So this week I’m sharing tips and guidance for how to stay safe during this heatwave (and however many more we must endure until Fall arrives later this year).

Firstly, NPR had a recent article about how to prevent heat-related illnesses by avoiding common mistakes people often make this time of year.

One mistake is not taking the time to acclimatize to the heat. If you’re inside in the air conditioning all day, your body isn’t going to handle stepping outside into the heat very well. It takes some time to acclimate, so experts recommend spending short periods of time outside in the heat for a few days, especially before going on a vacation that’ll include more time outside (like at the beach or on a hiking trip).

Don’t forget to “pre-hydrate” and “rehydrate.” Of course, it’s important to drink water while you’re outside in the heat, but it also helps to drink plenty of it beforehand too, and then multiple times as the day continues. Doctors say that most people aren’t hydrated enough on a normal day, so it’s a good idea to get in the habit of drinking water whenever you can. (I need to work on this more myself!)

Other mistakes to avoid when its hot: spending too much time in your car (because temperatures can quickly climb higher inside than they are outside); not checking if your medication makes you more vulnerable to heat (ask your doctor about it); not wearing loose, light clothing (dark clothes absorb heat); and drinking too much alcohol (which will dehydrate you faster, and you might miss the signs of heat-related illness if you’re impaired).

Why is all this important?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, heat kills more Americans than any other weather event, even though most of those deaths are preventable through outreach and intervention.

Heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat rash. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website has more information about these illnesses, how to recognize the signs, and what to do for people suffering from them.

Heat rash – the least severe of these illnesses – is a skin irritation from excessive sweating, and can be recognized by red clusters of small bumps on the neck, upper chest, elbow creases, and other similar places on the body.

Treatment includes moving to a cooler environment, keeping the rash dry, and applying powder. (Ointments or creams can make it worse.)

Heat cramps are muscle cramps or spasms in the abdomen or arms or legs. Treatment includes drinking fluids every 15 to 20 minutes (can be water or a sports drink with electrolytes) and avoiding salt tablets.

Heat cramps can sometimes be the first sign of heat exhaustion, so get medical help if the person has cramps longer than an hour or already has a heart condition.

Heat syncope is a fainting or dizziness episode after standing too long or suddenly rising from a sitting/lying position. Dehydration can be a contributing factor to experiencing this, so treatment includes sitting in a cool place and slowly drinking water, clear juice, or a sports drink.

Heat exhaustion is a severe illness marked by headache, nausea, dizziness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, and elevated body temperature. It’s caused by the body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt through excessive sweating.

First aid includes calling for medical help, removing the person from the heat and giving them liquids (frequent sips of cool water), removing unnecessary clothing, and cooling the person with water, cold compresses, an ice bath, or fans.

Heat stroke is the most serious of all the heat-related illnesses because the body is unable to cool down, and can be fatal if treatment is delayed. Symptoms include confusion and altered mental state and slurred speech, loss of consciousness, hot dry skin, seizures, and very high body temperature.

If someone is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 immediately and do no leave them unattended. Move the person to a cooler area and remove outer clothing. Cool the person with cold water or an ice bath (if possible), placing cold wet cloths on the skin, soaking clothing in cool water, and circulating air around the person to speed cooling.

How can we avoid these illnesses during this time of year? Along with the tips I shared earlier, some other recommendations include: staying in shaded areas when outdoors, wearing sunscreen, limiting outdoor time to morning or evening hours, and spending as much time as possible in an air-conditioned place. (If you don’t have a functioning AC at home, spend some time in a public place with it instead.)

For more extensive information on the topic, visit

Don’t forget to check on your neighbors, family, and friends as the summer continues. Everyone deserves to have a safe and fun summer, no matter the temperatures we have to endure.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.