The hot summer months can be tough on nurses. At this time of year, heatstroke and dehydration are serious issues for medical staff and patients. PPE can get uncomfortable in hot, humid conditions, but there are ways to stay cool and comfortable when the mercury rises. It is important to have a strategy to stay hydrated, cool and comfortable in warm temperatures. Making sure you always have water available, wear comfortable summer nurse scrubs and stay out of direct sunlight can go a long way toward helping you avoid the worst of the brutal summer heat. Consider these tips to keep cool in summer when it heats up at work.
Nursing without coffee may seem impossible, and cold-brewed iced coffee on a steamy morning is the perfect way to start a shift. But caffeine is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration in the summer months. Avoiding caffeine during the summer also means no coffee substitutes. While coffee and tea are diuretics, energy drinks are much worse, and their combination of taurine, caffeine and sugar can lead to dehydration faster than other caffeinated drinks. Instead of reaching for these drinks, choose beverages like fresh fruit juices, mineral water or water infused with cucumber or lime.
Enjoy Spicy Foods
Adding spices like chile pepper or cayenne to your food can help keep you cool. Capsaicin is the chemical transmitter in spicy food that makes you feel hot; it triggers thermoreceptors in your mouth. When the receptors are activated, they cause sweating around the face and neck, and sweating helps lower your temperature due to evaporative cooling. This effect is where the excess heat energy in your body is used to evaporate the sweat on your skin, lowering your overall body temperature. Spicy food and its associated sweating have been shown to lower your temperature on hot days.
Dress for the Heat
During the summer months, wear scrubs suitable for the higher temperatures. Choose a scrub top that is light and airy but also covers sensitive areas of your skin that might be prone to sunburn in direct sunlight. Choose scrubs made of materials made for higher temperatures like polyester, polypropylene or merino wool. If you can choose the color of your scrubs, avoid dark colors. Darker colors absorb sunlight, while lighter colors reflect it, keeping you cool anytime you’re outdoors. Also, consider scrubs with features like mesh ventilation panels to allow for more airflow.
Limit Sun Exposure and Use Sunscreen
Sun exposure during the hot months of the year can be very dangerous and is one of the primary causes of heat stroke. Avoid going outside in the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and wear sunscreen on all exposed skin every time you go outside. If you have to go outside in bright sunlight, it is essential to wear the right outdoor clothes for the weather. Summer-specific jogger scrubs cover enough of your skin to keep it protected from the sun while keeping you cool and comfortable.
The most critical thing you must do to beat the heat is staying hydrated. Dehydration is serious for nurses, doctors and patients, and you can dehydrate much faster than you’d think when the heat and humidity are high. The CDC recommends drinking one quart of water per hour when working in the summer. They recommend sipping your water progressively throughout the day rather than chugging it all at once. It is important not to over hydrate. Do not exceed 1.5 quarts of water per hour per day.
Drinking water isn’t the only way to stay hydrated. Eating foods with a high water content can be an excellent way to increase your water intake and boost your energy. Try snacking on watermelon, cantaloupe or peaches, or enjoy a fresh salad made with bell pepper, celery and lettuce.
Don’t Skip Your Break
Nurses are hard-working, driven professionals. There can be a temptation to skip breaks, particularly when you have a heavy workload and there are numerous patients to treat. However, on hot days this can be dangerous. When the temperature spikes, it is important to take breaks throughout the day, get off your feet and sit down in a cool, air-conditioned area. Take this time to let your body cool down and recover.
Take a Cool Shower
Cold showers can be beneficial beyond just cooling you off and helping you feel refreshed. Studies have also shown that they boost the immune system, leading to a 29% decline in sick days among people who add a blast of cold water at the end of their shower.
Stay Alert for Signs of Heat Stroke and Dehydration
On hot days, particularly when the humidity level is high, dehydration sneaks up on you. Know the signs and know how to differentiate them from other stresses that might crop up during the work day, especially if you volunteer at a camp or other outdoor event. Symptoms include:
- Infrequent urination or dark-colored urine
If you experience any symptoms, it is important to sit in a cool area and rehydrate immediately.
Consider Switching to a Night Shift
One of the best ways to beat the summer heat is to avoid it. If your facility has the option of working a night shift, you can sleep during the hottest part of the day and work when the temperatures are more manageable. The night shift might have extra benefits, too, with some facilities offering higher pay for working overnight, and many nurses prefer this calmer time of day.
Stay Cool While You Work Hard
Nursing is hard work, and staying cool during the summer months is essential for your well-being and those you are treating. You need to stay focused on your job; lives depend on it, and your work is too important to let the heat distract you. Follow these steps, and you should be able to beat the heat and stay comfortable when the temperatures spike.