At last, summer is here! However, with the summer months comes heat, sun exposure, water activities, and more that can result in health risks.

“During the summer months, we generally see a rise in cases involving heat and sun,” says Dr. Andrew Arcand, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital. “The most common cases we see during this time of year include heat stroke and exhaustion, moderate to severe sunburns, and more recently, respiratory issues related to wildfire smoke and poor air quality.”

The difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are some of the most common weather-related cases seen in the Emergency Department at Markham Stouffville Hospital, but what is the difference between the two?

Those with heat exhaustion could experience symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Dizzy spells or fainting
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Muscle cramping

If you suspect you may have heat exhaustion, there are some things you can do to recover at home, including staying hydrated, moving indoors to a cool, air-conditioned space if possible, lying down, taking a cool shower, or using cold compresses or ice packs. While you can do these things at home, be sure to monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if they worsen.

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is considered a medical emergency and very dangerous. Here are a few telltale signs to watch out for that could indicate heat stroke:

  • Headache
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lack of sweating
  • Skin is red and/or hot to the touch
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • High body temperature (generally over 104° F)

If you are experiencing these symptoms, head to your nearest Emergency Department, or call 911.

Staying safe in the sun

When it comes to staying safe while outside this summer, Dr. Arcand has a few suggestions. “Try and avoid direct sun contact,” says Dr. Arcand. “Stick to shaded areas, or cool off frequently in a pool, lake, or sprinkler. It’s also important to wear a hat and sunscreen, and stay hydrated.”

Often when you are in the moment, you may forget to drink water or reapply sunscreen when needed. Using a timer or an alarm on your phone is a great tool to use as a reminder.

Air quality

Generally, in the summer months, we see an increase in smog and a decrease in overall air quality. Forest wildfires can also be common during the summer depending on your proximity to forested areas, which can result in an even more drastic shift in air quality. It’s important to be diligent, especially if you are part of a vulnerable group.

For a more comprehensive list of recommendations and ways to stay safe and combat poor air quality, check out these tips from Dr. David Dancey, a respirologist at Oak Valley Health.


This article appeared in the July 2023 issue of The Link. To receive Oak Valley Health’s community newsletter, subscribe now.