Staying safe in the summer heat

Summer is a wonderful time of year but even here in Alaska the heat can sometimes be intense, especially for seniors. That's why it's important to know how to prevent and treat heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as well as sunburns.


To prevent sunburns, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin before going outside. Apply more every two hours, or more often if swimming or sweating. Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants and a wide-brimmed hat, to cover up as much skin as possible, and seek shade during the peak UV hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body gets too hot. Symptoms include feeling dizzy, weak or nauseated, getting a headache, and having cold, clammy skin. If you experience these signs, get to a cool place, loosen tight clothes, sip water, and put cool, damp clothes on your body. Do not drink water rapidly as this may cause vomiting. If symptoms persist, call your doctor for guidance on whether you need to be seen in the office or if self-care measures are sufficient.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is a more severe condition that requires immediate medical attention. It happens when your body can no longer control its temperature. Warning signs include hot, red skin, a rapid pulse, headache, dizziness and fainting. If someone has heat stroke, call 911 right away. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency. While waiting for help, get to a shady, cool location, remove excess clothing, apply cool cloths or give a cool bath, and provide small sips of cool water if they are conscious.


If you get sunburned, take a cool bath or apply a cool, damp cloth to the affected areas to soothe the skin. Use a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer to hydrate the skin and relieve discomfort. Take over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to reduce inflammation and ease pain. Avoid further sun exposure until the burn has healed. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, as sunburns can lead to fluid loss. Apply aloe vera gel to the sunburned areas to help cool and soothe the skin. Avoid irritating the sunburned skin with tight clothing or harsh products. Watch for signs of severe sunburn such as blistering, fever, chills, or extreme pain. Seek medical attention if necessary by visiting your primary healthcare provider.

Be proactive

For heat injuries, prevention is the best approach. On hot days, stay inside an air-conditioned space like your home, library, store or community center. Drink water frequently, even if you don't feel thirsty. Limit alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks—those don't hydrate you at all. When outdoors, opt for lightweight, loose-fitting clothes, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunscreen. Sunburned skin cannot cool itself effectively, and your body depends on sunscreen.

Never leave anyone in a parked car.

Check on elderly neighbors and loved ones during heat waves. Some medications can affect the body's ability to regulate temperature. People who get ill often will be more susceptible. Heat-related illnesses can occur even when temperatures are not extreme, particularly when humidity is high or with strenuous activity.

By being prepared and watching for warning signs, you can enjoy our beautiful summer months. If you have any health concerns or are unsure whether to call 911 or visit your doctor, it's always best to err on the side of caution and seek medical advice. Stay cool and have a wonderful summer, everyone.

Christian M. Hartley is a 40-year Alaska resident with over 25 years of public safety and public service experience. He is the City of Houston Fire Chief and serves on many local and state workgroups, boards and commissions related to safety. He lives in Big Lake with his wife of 20 years and their three teenage sons.