Don't let the heat beat you; Avoid summer-related illnesses

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Chicagoans don't head to the beach empty-handed. Every summer, thousands flock to Lake Michigan wearing the latest summer fashion trends armed with sunglasses and sunscreen. 

While those are important, bringing a little safety know-how may be even more valuable. To help people stay healthy, safe and hydrated this summer Northwestern Medicine experts offer their top tips for summer safety.

"When summer temperatures soar and people don't take the proper precautions, they will often end up in our emergency room," said Rahul Khare, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "Every summer, we see hundreds of patients with heat-related illness, and most of the time those trips to the emergency room could have been completed avoided."

Heat-related illnesses occur quite commonly, leading Khare to treat more than 100 cases each summer, most often heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can develop when body temperatures rise because of dehydration or overexertion in hot weather. While overheating can occur in any healthy individual, the elderly, young children and people with certain medical conditions are at highest risk for heat-related illnesses. For those most susceptible, hot environments should be avoided whenever possible.

"Summer is a great time to get outside and enjoy the weather, but people must take the proper precautions especially at start of the season," said Khare, who is also an associate professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Don't be so eager to get outside that you are unprepared. We want you to have a great summer but we don't want to see you in the emergency room."

Before you head out to the beach for the first time this year, check out Khare's top five summer safety tips:

1. Plan an indoor lunch break: Don't stay outside all day. Remember to check the clock and limit the time spent outdoors if you aren't accustomed to the heat. Avoid outdoor activities during the sun's strongest hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Plan those beach volleyball tournaments accordingly.

2. Step away from the energy drink. Pick up the glass of water: When it's hot outside, the most important thing to remember is to hydrate. Drink plenty of water or sports drinks to restore body fluids. Remember caffeine found in many coffee and energy drinks can actually cause dehydration. So stick with water. It's one of the simplest and cheapest things you can for your health.

3. Your new best friend? Sunscreen: Slather on a thick coat of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more and reapply every two hours, especially if you've been in the water or if you've been perspiring. When it comes to summer fashion, think comfort. Dark colors absorb the heat so light-colored clothing is best. Be sure to cover your face and wear a hat, such as a baseball cap or visor to provide additional protection.

4. Your new enemy? High humidity: Check the morning forecast. A summer day with high humidity can drastically affect that day's temperature. Humidity can hinder sweat from evaporating quickly and prevent the body from releasing heat effectively, so refrain from intensive outdoor activity when the humidity climbs.

5. Scope out some shade. Or bring your own: If you are outside during the sun's strongest hours, find a shaded spot to rest, even if it's just for a few minutes. The shade from a beach umbrella or large tree can help keep you cool.

Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery. 

For healthy facts and tips throughout the summer, connect and join the conversation on Northwestern Memorial's Facebook and Twitter feeds.