*This article appeared in June/July 2017 issue of Owensboro Living Magazine.
Summer is a great time to be outside.
There are many ways to enjoy the warm weather, including swimming, hiking, cooking out, camping and much more. When you’re out in the heat, it’s important to keep yourself safe from heat-related illness.
Your body’s normal temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and your body sweats to keep it that way. Sweating makes it easier for your body to cool off.
Most people have heard of hypothermia, which is when the body gets too cold. But when the body gets too hot, it’s called hyperthermia. When this happens, your body is overheating. It causes your normal functions to break down and it gets worse as the body’s temperature goes higher.
In the early stages, this causes dizziness, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, fainting and headaches. Severe hyperthermia leads to body organs, such as the kidneys, shutting down. The most severe stage of heat illness, called heat stroke, can cause irregular heart rhythms and seizures, both of which can be deadly.
Know the difference! Heat exhaustion, the early stages of heat-related illness, causes you to sweat more, breathe harder, and your heart to beat faster.
Heat stroke happens when your body temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, with severe symptoms, including fainting, confusion, or behavior changes. Heat stroke is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention, so call 911 if someone shows these symptoms after exposure to high temperatures!
Children and the elderly are especially prone to heat-related illnesses because they may have difficulty regulating temperature. Some medical conditions and the medications that treat them can also increase risk of heat-related illness, including:
- Heart disease;
- High blood pressure and blood pressure medications;
- High cholesterol and cholesterol medications;
- Circulatory problems, especially in the arms, legs, hands and feet;
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and ADHD medications.
People who are very active on hot days, especially athletes and laborers, are also at very high risk. Add in any of the conditions above and their risk increases even more. These individuals must take action to prevent heat-related illness.
[tw-divider]How to keep your cool[/tw-divider]
There are several things you can do to prevent heat-related illness:
Drink up! Proper hydration helps your body control temperature. If you’re going to be outdoors in high temperatures, you need to drink at least 8 oz. of fluids every 30 minutes. In extreme heat, we recommend 32 oz. per hour.
It’s also important to choose your drinks wisely. If you’re doing a lot of sweating, water probably isn’t going to be enough to keep you hydrated. Sports drinks, which contain electrolytes, do a better job of keeping you hydrated. Soft drinks or alcoholic beverages actually cause you to dehydrate faster.
Take a break! Stopping to rest when it’s hot is essential, especially if you’re physically active. This will help your body to cool down. Breaks are also a perfect time to hydrate.Take a break in the shade. This gives your body an extra advantage as it tries to cool down. If you don’t have to be outside when it’s hottest, stay inside.
Know when to get help! Certain symptoms of heat-related illness are a warning that a person needs immediate medical care. If someone you know has these symptoms after being in the heat, call 911:
- Loss of consciousness (fainting or passing out);
- Confusion or behavior changes;
- Symptoms continuing or worsening even after drinking fluids;
- Blood in urine (can be a sign of heat-related organ failure).
Do you have questions about how your own health conditions or medications can affect you in the heat? Talk to your primary care provider. They can give you advice on how to stay safe, keep cool and enjoy the summer! You can also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention heat safety page at www.cdc.gov/extremeheat.
Dr. Thomas Cunningham is a board-certified emergency medicine physician at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital.