Sun and heat safety tips for travellers
If you are planning to travel to a warm and sunny place, you should be aware that strong sunlight and extremely hot temperatures can be dangerous to your health.
While extreme heat can put everyone at risk from heat illnesses, health risks are greatest for older travellers, infants and young children, and those who have chronic illnesses or are physically impaired.
Extreme heat may increase your health risks if you have breathing difficulties, heart or kidney problems, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease or a mental disorder.
Here are some sun- and heat-related health issues that you should discuss with your health care provider before you leave Canada.
Sun safety tips
Dress for the weather: wear loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing made from breathable fabric.
Stay hydrated: drink plenty of cool liquids, especially water, before you feel thirsty to decrease your risk of dehydration.
Avoid sun exposure: wear a wide-brimmed, breathable hat or use an umbrella.
Wear sunglasses: make sure they provide protection against UVA and UVB rays.
Limit your time in the sun: especially between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Use sunscreen: with a Sun Protection Factor of at least 15. The sunscreen should also say "broad-spectrum" on the label, to screen out most of the UVA and UVB rays. Remember, sunscreen will protect against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, but not from the heat.
Sunburn is caused by overexposure to UV rays. While the symptoms are usually temporary, skin damage is cumulative throughout a person's life and can develop into serious long-term health effects, including skin cancer.
Reflections off snow, water, sand and concrete can increase the effect of UV rays. Protect yourself on cloudy days, when you're swimming, and even while skiing.
If you have been in the sun long enough to get a severe sunburn you may be at increased risk of heat illness. Some symptoms of heat illness are similar to sunburn so it is important to be aware of both to protect yourself.
Possible symptoms of sunburn include:
- red, tender skin that is warm or sensitive to the touch
- blisters that develop hours or days later
- severe reactions (also called "sun poisoning"), including fever, chills, nausea, or rash
- peeling skin on sunburned areas several days after the sunburn
Heat illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat fainting, heat edema (swelling of hands, feet and ankles), heat rash and heat cramps (muscle cramps). Heat illnesses can affect you quickly and are mainly caused by overexposure or overexertion in the heat.
Watch for symptoms of heat illness, which include:
- dizziness or fainting
- nausea or vomiting
- rapid breathing and heartbeat
- extreme thirst (dry mouth or sticky saliva) and
- decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine
If you experience any of these symptoms during hot weather, immediately move to a cool place and drink liquids. Water is best.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency! Call 911 or the local emergency number immediately if someone has a high body temperature and is either unconscious, confused, or has stopped sweating.
Medications and heat
Some medications may affect your sensitivity to heat or interfere with your body’s cooling functions or water and salt retention or make your skin more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). If you are taking medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it increases your health risk in the heat and follow his or her recommendations.
- Beta blockers, diuretics and calcium channel blockers: work against the protective systems that enable the body to respond to heat stress and may predispose you to heat-related emergencies.
- Anti-Parkinson’s drugs: caninhibit perspiration that keeps your body cool.
- Antidepressants: can cause sedation and dizziness, so you may be less aware of heat problems. Some increase heat production, so your body is warmer. Tricylic anti-depressants can affect your body's ability to regulate heat.
- Antihistamines: can inhibit perspiration that keeps your body cool.
- Over-the-counter sleeping pills: Some contain the same medication that is used in antihistamines. They also sedate you, so that you may not be aware how hot you are.
- Anti-diarrhea pills: can cause confusion and dizziness.
- Some diuretics (usually used as a hypertension medication): can make you lose water and increase your urine flow, so you can lose salt as well. Can make you feel light-headed when you get up quickly or exercise. Some diuretics make you sensitive to sunlight.
- Psychiatric drugs: some neuroleptics can alter your sense of thirst so you may not realize your body needs water. Some schizophrenia drugs can sedate you, and some of the newer neuroleptic medications ("atypicals") can weaken the heart muscle, leaving you more susceptible to heat-related problems.
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