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Summer health threats hidden in the great outdoors

July 25, 2020 (Updated: August 1, 2021)
Lily Moran

Today’s record temperatures can be dangerous to your health. Being outside in the heat without taking certain precautions can lead to serious trouble.

Dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke are three of the most common (and serious) health threats you’ll face when heading out for some fun in the sun. But there’s more danger than meets the eye when exploring the great outdoors this season.

But, if you follow some simple rules, there’s no need to worry. So let’s dive in and learn how to beat the heat and fend off the serious trouble hiding in summer’s splendor.

What do we consider “serious trouble?”

Well, in one word: death.

Historically, heat has killed more people than natural disasters, including earthquakes and hurricanes. The sun’s ultraviolet rays (uv rays)—the ones that heat us up—travel through clouds, through non-protective clothing, and even through your skin.

And it doesn’t even have to be sunny, just hot enough so that you’re heating up from both the inside and outside. In extreme cases, a failure to mind the heat index can lead to a spike in body temperature that can lead to exhaustion, or even stroke.

Although dying is rare, it does happen. To keep from falling victim, it’s important to know the warning signs of when fun in the sun may be too much for your body to handle.

Then how do I know before it’s too much?

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for sun damage to occur before knowing you might be in danger of overheating. Your body gives you a few warning signs that you might be in danger.

One of those is dehydration, when your body loses more water than you take in. You naturally lose water every night and day, through sweat, breathing, and eliminating waste. If you don’t replace that water, it’s a dangerous recipe for disaster.

The first obvious sign of dehydration is thirst. It’s your body’s cry for help, a signal that you’re already dehydrated. And hydrating your body couldn’t be more simple.

2 basic rules for proper hydration:

1) Wake up to water

First thing in the AM, drink 22 ounces of water. That’s because while you slept, you sweated and breathed away a lot of it. An early start refills your tank. And;

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2) Drink water throughout your day

We recommend drinking one ounce for every two pounds you weigh. At 160 pounds, for example, that’s 80 ounces of water a day. That may sound like a lot, but it’s just ten 8 oz. glasses throughout the day—roughly one glass per hour, during your waking hours.

Note, on days when your waking hours involve more physical activity—especially outdoors—increasing your water intake prevents heat-related threats.

And no, most beverages other than water (even sports drinks) don’t count. Water rules.

Do I just have to worry about the sun?

Unfortunately, no.

Summer brings with it a lot of dangers hidden in plain sight. You’re more vulnerable to them because you’re outdoors more often.

If you do venture out more this season, pay attention to avoid these 3 often-overlooked summer threats:

  • Food poisoning: Even the most well-meaning, socially-distant picnics and barbecues can become serious threats. Food served outdoors and left out in the open over a few hours can cause serious harm. Lots of dangerous bacteria grow between 40 °F and 140 °F. The maximum safe period to leave food at that temperature is two hours. Also, you can’t just worry about under-cooked meat or spoiling mayonnaise. Because of the way our food system works, in the United States raw fruits and vegetables can also be a source of food danger.
  • Heavy equipment + alchohol: We know that drinking alcohol is bad for your health, but, for some of us, it makes summer more pleasant. You may like sitting back with a beer or two or sharing a pitcher of sangria with friends. That’s a choice you make. The choice you shouldn’t make is to operate the grill, the outdoor fryer, or the lawn mower while you’re drinking. The same way you wouldn’t drive your car while your drunk, you shouldn’t use dangerous machinery either.
  • Sunburn/Skin Damage: We spend so many more hours outdoors in summer. It’s pleasant outside even late—especially if we’re near a pool! But hours of increased sun exposure or tanning may lead to sun burns, and sun-burnt skin cells lead to melanoma. When possible wear light fabrics with long sleeves for maximum sun protection. Whether poolside or campside, if you are going to be outdoors this season, please practice sun safety to avoid potential skin damage.

This summer is already off to a hot start. As temperatures continue to rise, you’ll be tempted to be outdoors more. If you do, remember to follow our 2 simple rules to combat heat-related threats. And, be vigilant against falling victim to the additional potential threats to your short term and long term health the warmer season presents.

Take good care.

Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Last Updated: July 25, 2020
Originally Published: July 7, 2018

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