Summer is officially here! We’re entering into hot weather and sunny days, but that won’t stop us from getting outside. Which is why it’s key to know how to stay healthy to avoid heat-related illnesses. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and a heat stroke are all possible results of prolonged exposure to high temperatures.
Here are some tips to recognize, treat and ultimately prevent dangerous illnesses in the heat.
Heat cramps are typically the first signs of a heat-related illness and occur in the major muscles being used during physical activity while in the heat. Generally, a heat cramp consists of intermittent, involuntary spasms of the particular muscles in use.
Symptoms of heat cramps include cramping and profuse sweating. These symptoms usually occur at some point right after physical activity in the heat; however, there have also been cases of people experiencing heat cramps hours after. For example, construction workers may experience heat cramps several hours after their work day in the sun has ended.
It is also important to note that heat cramps can also be a symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion is when the body is unable to control its temperature in high temperatures and lacks the ability to cool down.
Symptoms typically include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, but may also include dizziness, confusion, headaches, pale skin, heat cramps and possibly fainting.
A heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when your body reaches 104 degrees or greater and is incapable of cooling down. It is important to note that a heat stroke is an requires immediate, emergency treatment. Untreated heat strokes can lead to injury to the brain and vital organs within the body, and even death.
Symptoms of a heat stroke include high core body temperature (above 104 degrees), altered mental state, possible dry skin (no sweat), rapid breathing and heart rate, nausea, vomiting, headaches and pale skin.
When experiencing prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity levels occurs and a heat-related illness is in question, be sure to take all precautions to cool down and, when necessary, seek emergency treatment as soon as possible.
If you find yourself experiencing symptoms associated with heat-related illnesses, here’s what to do:
- stop the activity being performed
- get to a cooler, shaded place
- drink plenty of fluids
- gently stretch the muscles that are cramping
- Get to air conditioning
- Drink plenty of fluids, specifically water or sports drinks with electrolytes
- Remove any tight-fitted clothing
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge/towel bath
- If none of these measures help to cool someone down, call 911
- Contact 911 immediately
- Get the person into shade or indoors
- Remove excess, especially tight-fitted, clothing
- Cool the person with whatever means available – cool towel, cold bath, ice packs, water hose, apply wet towels to groin, armpits, and head
Heat-related illnesses are generally initiated by two major factors: high temperatures and dehydration. Before going outside immediately, first make sure you are prepared for the heat.
It’s always in best practice to check the heat index and humidity levels – remember if the heat index is above 90 degrees or humidity is above 60% it’s best to stay inside and wait until it gets a little cooler. However, in cases where this isn’t necessarily possible, such as a job requirement or outdoor event, follow these simple steps to beat the heat:
- Apply sunscreen: SPF above 30 is recommended for protecting skin from 97-98% of UV rays and, of course, don’t forget to reapply as directed!
- Hydration, hydration, hydration: keep a refillable water bottle with you at all times and be sure to drink fluids frequently while out in the heat. Recommended intake of water during physical activity in the heat is 1 cup every 15-20 minutes. Drinking a little a shorter intervals is more effective than drinking large amounts infrequently.
- Wear sun protection: Sun glasses protect your eyes from damage from sun exposure and a hat adds some extra shade to the neck, ears, face and eyes.
- Dress appropriately for the heat: Loose-fitted, breathable clothing and shoes that won’t cause the body or feet to be more sweaty.
- Bring something to keep cool: An ice pack, cool towel or water bottle is great to have on hand to cool down in the heat.
- Take breaks: If you’re playing sports or being physically active in the heat, be sure to take breaks frequently to not just drink water and reapply sunscreen but also rest in shade and allow the body to cool down.
Heat-related illnesses are strongly related to the heat index. Heat index is the measurement of how hot a person feels when the effects of relative humidity and air temperature are combined. A relative humidity of 60% or more negatively affects sweat evaporation, which hinders your body’s ability to cool itself.
The risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 90 degrees or more. So it’s extremely important to pay attention to the reported heat index for your safety and take all precautions to maintain a cool body temperature and beat the heat!