Weather and recreational safety
Use these tools and tips to protect yourself from the heat, sun and water
What is heat illness?
Hot summer weather and extreme heat events can put people at risk of suffering a heat illness. Heat illnesses include heat exhaustion, heat edema, heat rash, and heat stroke. If not treated, heat illness can lead to serious health issues or even death.
Who is most at risk to suffer from heat illnesses?
Infants, young children, older adults, and those who exercise strenuously are especially vulnerable to heat illnesses during hot weather. It is a good idea to talk to your doctor about how hot weather will affect you, especially if:
- You have difficulty breathing
- You often experience diarrhea
- You have a heart condition
- You have cognitive or physical disabilities
- You experience hypertension
- You have kidney problems
- You were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease
- You were diagnosed with mental illness
- You are taking medication
What are the signs of heat illness?
Monitor yourself during extreme heat for signs of heat illness. These signs can include:
- Behavioural changes, like unusual tiredness or anger
- Dizziness or fainting
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid breathing
- Extreme thirst
- Decreased urination
How to prevent heat illnesses
There are many ways to protect yourself and others from heat illnesses:
- Be prepared: Take note of local weather forecasts and know when hot weather is coming. Arrange for others to visit you in case you need assistance. If you have an air conditioner, make sure it’s working before the heat starts. If you don’t have an air conditioner, find a cool spot close by to visit for a couple of hours
- Be aware of how you feel: Watch for symptoms of heat illness. If you experience any of these symptoms, move to a cool area right away and drink cool liquids
- Drink lots of water: To decrease your risk of dehydration, it’s important to drink plenty of water before you start to feel thirsty. Water is best, but other decaffeinated beverages are ok as well
- Keep yourself cool: Wear loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabric and stay in the shade as much as possible. Keep your home cool by using an air conditioner or blinds. Prepare meals that don’t require the oven and take cold baths or showers
- Avoid heat exposure when outside: Reschedule events or plan activities for the cooler parts of the day, typically evening or early morning. Check weather reports for humidity levels and air quality before heading out. Remember that shaded areas like parks can be as much as five degrees cooler than surrounding areas. Never leave your child in a parked car
Ultraviolet (UV) exposure and sunburns are major contributors to skin cancer. Melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers account for more diagnoses than lung, breast, and prostate cancer combined.
There are many things that you can do protect your skin during summer:
- Wear broad-brimmed hats or use sun umbrellas, and try to stay in the shade to avoid direct sun, especially in the middle of the day
- Dress in light, loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts or long pants to protect their skin
- Apply sunscreen liberally and often
Skin cancer facts
Exposure to UV radiation is the biggest risk factor for developing skin cancer. In 2022, 9000 Canadians are diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer each year and it kills over 1,000 Canadians every year. Exposure to UV radiation is the biggest risk factor for the development of skin cancer. UVA (the rays that cause aging) also causes cancer, not just UVB (the rays that cause sunburns). Some people worry about not getting enough vitamin D if they wear sunscreen or avoid the sun, but dermatologists say that Ontarians should gain vitamin D through food (like salmon, eggs, milk, or orange juice) or taking supplements — not from exposure to UV rays.
Kids and the sun
Childhood sun exposure is even more important than adult sun exposure in contributing to the development of skin cancer later in life.
Sun screen 101
Sunscreens absorb, reflect or scatter UV radiation (UVA and UVB) from the sun. Even when it’s cloudy, it’s essential to wear sunscreen because UV rays are there and can pass through to clouds. Sunscreens come in various forms, including creams, lotions, gels, and sprays.
Babies younger than six months old should not wear sunscreen or be exposed to direct sun because their skin is very delicate and sensitive. Keep babies under six months old in the shade. Sunburns in babies can be medical emergencies — if your baby gets a sunburn, contact your pediatrician.
How to choose the right sunscreen
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) represents the length of time that sunscreen-protected skin can be exposed to UVB rays before experiencing redness and burns compared to unprotected skin.
When picking sunscreen, the higher the SPF, the higher the protection. Though SPF numbers may double, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean the protection doubles. When deciding on which sunscreen to pick, remember that the broad spectrum protects against UVA and UVB rays and that being water-resistant means that the product will stay on better and in water.
How to apply sunscreen
Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen to protect themselves. Adults need two to three tablespoons of sunscreen to properly cover their body and about one teaspoon for their face and neck. Children should have a generous amount of sunscreen applied 20 minutes before going in the sun, and it should be reapplied every two hours when outdoors for an extended time. If possible, apply sunscreen to dry skin for best absorption.
Sunscreen should be your first layer of protection, meaning that you should apply it before other products like insect repellent. Apply sunscreen on any area of your skin that clothing does not cover, including ears, chin, neck, bald spots, the tops of your feet and the back of your hands. If using sunscreen that comes in a spray or pump bottle, spray or pump the sunscreen in your hands and then apply it to your face. Look for a lip balm that has SPF to protect your lips.
Sunscreens contain chemicals and should not be used after their expiry date because they may not work as well. Sunscreens can also be affected by extreme changes in temperature, so it’s best to buy a new sunscreen if yours has been overheated or frozen.
Despite efforts to improve water safety and awareness, Ontario continues to have the highest number of drowning deaths in the country. A few small changes can lead to considerable strides in water safety.
Here are recommendations to keep children safe when they’re playing in or around water:
- Pool owners should install four-sided pool fences to keep toddlers safe from the danger of falling in
- Children playing near the water should always be supervised by an adult
- Children younger than five and children who are not strong swimmers should wear an approved life jacket whenever they are near the water
- All children should wear an approved life jacket when in a boat, canoe or other water craft
- Learning to swim and survival skills swimming lessons should be made mandatory for all children in Ontario
- Parents should be trained in CPR and rescue breathing, especially if they live near the water or have a pool