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Stay Safe & Cool This Summer!

It’s summertime! The days are longer, school is out and it’s time to plan something fun for the family.  Whether your summer plans keep you close to home or take you out on the road, keep these important health and safety tips in mind. 

This Heat is no Joke!

It’s no secret that it’s really hot in Texas over the summer.  In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the weather can also be quite humid, which makes it feel even hotter.  Extremely high temperatures, coupled with high humidity, result in dangerous conditions.  Meteorologists factor in humidity levels with actual temperatures to calculate the temperature humidity index – that’s what it actually feels like outside, similar to how a wind chill factor is used in the winter months.  

According to the National Weather Service, an Excessive Heat Warning is issued ahead of “extremely dangerous heat conditions.” Generally, these are issued when the high heat index temperature is 105 degrees F or higher for two or more days in a row and the overnight low temperature does not fall below 75 degrees.  The Weather Service may use a lower threshold for an Excessive Heat Warning for areas of the country that are not as accustomed to extremely hot temperatures. 

For those of us in North Texas, however, these extreme heat events are not unusual.  We have plenty of summer days when the temperature does not fall below 80 degrees, much less 75. In 2023, Texas experienced its second-hottest summer ever (it was the third hottest for North Texas).  Our region experienced 47 days with temperatures of 100 degrees or higher.  More than 20 deaths in the DFW region were attributed to heat and thousands suffered heat-related illnesses. 

Some years are hotter than others, so maybe this summer will be less extreme.  However, the heat is always more intense in urban and suburban areas where lots of concrete and glass make it hotter and prevent temperatures from cooling down much overnight. 

Stay Ahead of the Heat

“If you only remember two things about the heat, limit your exposure and drink plenty of water,” says Dr. Benjamin Marcum, a Stephenville family medicine doctor.  “That’s how you stay ahead of it; if you end up staying in the heat too long, by the time you realize it, you probably won’t feel very good. Too much exposure to high heat increases risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.”   

Heat exhaustion occurs when a person loses too much water and salt from their bodies, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, heavy sweating and shallow breathing.  If you experience these symptoms, get to a cool area (preferably inside) and drink plenty of water or other non-carbonated, non-alcoholic fluids.  Applying a cool cloth or taking a cool bath can also aid recovery from heat exhaustion.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency – it occurs when the body gets extremely overheated and is unable to regulate its internal temperature.  A person suffering from heat stroke can quickly reach a temperature of up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.  Symptoms of heat stroke include hallucinations, chills and dry, hot skin.  If you think someone may be suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately and get the person to a cool area and soak them in cool water. 

“It’s really important to stay hydrated and take frequent breaks if you are spending a lot of time outside,” says Dr. Gregory Bratton, a family practice and sports medicine physician with offices in Weatherford and Brock.  “Try to stay in the shade and drink plenty of water.  If you’re doing yard work, it’s best to get it out of the way early in the day, when temperatures are not as warm.  Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes, which help to reflect the sun’s rays.  Darker colors absorb sunlight and heat you up faster.”

Stop the Sunburn

No one likes being sunburned – it can make you miserable for a few days.  Worse, though, is the long-term effect of repeated sunburns.  Too much exposure to the sun’s harmful rays over many years is the leading cause of skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the United States. 

The sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause sunburn almost immediately, causing skin to redden and eventually become painful and itchy.  There are two types of UV rays that reach the earth’s surface – UVA and UVB.  UVA rays penetrate the skin and are responsible for premature aging signs, such as wrinkles and spots.  UVB rays primarily affect the surface of the skin, causing sunburn. 

Anyone who spends time in the sun is susceptible to skin cancer, but those with the following characteristics are at greater risk:

  • Fairer, lighter skin
  • Freckles or skin that reddens easily
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blonde or red hair
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Older age
  • Having a large number of skin moles

Sunscreen is Your Friend

The key to beating back those UV rays is a good sunscreen.  There are two types of sunscreen: chemical and physical.  A chemical sunscreen works by absorbing UV rays, with their active ingredients acting as a sponge.  A physical sunscreen serves as a barrier to the UV rays, deflecting them much like a shield would deflect an arrow.  Some people with sensitive skin may opt for this type of sunscreen. 

Sunscreens are classified by their Sun Protection Factor (SPF).  You should use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which will block 97% of UVB rays.  The higher the SPF, the more protection the sunscreen provides, but an SPF of 60 is not twice as protective as an SPF of 30.  No sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UVB rays. 

Dr. Walter Evans, II, a Dallas obstetrician and gynecologist, offers the following advice on sunscreen use: “When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours and if you are swimming, reapply sunscreen every time you get out of the water. It’s important to keep in mind that a higher SPF does not mean the sunscreen lasts longer – you must reapply sunscreen every two hours, regardless of the SPF.” 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all sunscreens maintain their effectiveness for at least three years.  If you have some sunscreen in the cabinet from last year, check the expiration date before you use it.  If it is out of date, throw it away and buy some more. 

“Many people believe they only need to use sunscreen in the summer, but that’s actually not true,” says Dr. Berry Fleming, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Plano.  “The sun’s harmful UV rays are present year-round, even on cloudy days and regardless of temperature.  Additionally, damage from the sun can be accelerated when you are at the beach or even when you are skiing in the winter.  That’s because water, sand and snow all reflect UV rays.”

Be generous when applying sunscreen! Most people don’t use enough of it.  Remember, it’s not just your limbs, back and chest that require protection.  You should apply sunscreen to every exposed area of skin, including your feet, hands and head. The sun can harm your lips as well, so use a lipstick or lip balm with SPF for extra protection.

For babies and toddlers, it is best to minimize their time in the sun and protect them with loose-fitting clothing, a hat and sunglasses when they are outside.  Sunscreen should generally not be used for babies under six months of age. 

Heart Health & Heat

People with heart disease and conditions that impact their heart health need to be especially careful during the hot summer months.  People who have high blood pressure (hypertension) need to be mindful of the amount of time they spend outdoors when it is hot. 

High temperatures and humidity levels cause more blood flow to the skin – this has the effect of causing the heart to beat faster, as it is pumping more blood than normal.  This process can exacerbate elevated blood pressure.

People who are overweight, over age 50, or who have lung and kidney conditions can be adversely affected by heat and high humidity.

And while anyone can become dehydrated, it’s especially problematic for people in these higher-risk categories. 

Protect Yourself Outdoors

If your summer plans include hiking, camping and swimming – great!  Time spent in the Great Outdoors – and not in front of a screen – is good for the entire family’s physical and mental health. 

Banish the Bugs

A good insect repellant is a must when hiking or camping.  When outdoors, protect yourself from mosquito bites by using an insect repellent with DEET, an ingredient that has proven effective at repelling the types of mosquitos known to carry West Nile virus.  “Apply insect repellent to any exposed skin, such as your arms and legs,” says Dr. Julia Gillean, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Rockwall.  “Then, spray some into the palm of your hand and then rub it into your face for maximum protection.” 

Some insect repellents also provide protection against ticks, which can carry Lyme disease and other illnesses.  Protection from ticks, in addition to mosquitos, is important if your family’s summer plans include camping or hiking in the woods. 

You can and should use sunscreen and insect repellant at the same time.  Insect repellant lasts longer, so you do not have to reapply it as frequently as sunscreen. 

Keep Kids Safe in the Water

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of 11 drowning deaths a day in the United States.  Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause of death for kids 5-14.    

Teaching children to be strong swimmers is crucial to keeping them safe in the water.  However, even if your child is adept at swimming, parents must never let their guard down around the water. 

“When young children are in or near the water, it is imperative an adult watches them continuously,” says Dr. Rohan Menon, a Frisco pediatrician.  “In the time it takes to answer a phone call or read a text message, a child can go underwater and drown.  Stay close by and keep your eyes on children at all times.”

For people who have pools at home, installing a safety fence is highly recommended to prevent young children from getting in the water unsupervised. 

Have a Wonderful Summer!

The summer months should be an opportunity to spend some extra time with your family, make some new memories and maybe get away for a week or so.  Whether your plans take you halfway around the world or to your own backyard, take these simple precautions to protect your and your family’s health and safety.

On behalf of all the providers of Privia Medical Group North Texas, enjoy your summer – and stay cool!

This article has been reviewed and approved by a panel of Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians. 

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Skin Cancer | CDC

Drowning Facts | Drowning Prevention | CDC

The Mayo Clinic

The Dallas Morning News

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