Beat the heat and stay safe this summer
With temperatures soaring into the 90s this week, it is time to practice preventive measures against heat-induced illness, especially when you are exercising or working outdoors.
Water is your first line of defense. Your body needs water to stay cool because it replaces fluids lost through sweat and helps prevent dehydration.
We want you to drink water continuously during your time outdoors when the temperature is above 85 degrees, about one liter per hour. Don’t wait until you are thirsty because thirst is a late symptom of dehydration.
You can increase your heat tolerance by drinking water and an icy, cold, sweet drink such as Gatorade or a Slurpee about 30 minutes before you go outside. Avoid drinks with alcohol and caffeine; they may feel refreshing, but they can actually accelerate dehydration.
Pale yellow urine, which appears nearly clear, indicates that you are adequately hydrated. It’s a good idea to check it before and after exercise. It’s also a good idea to weigh your self. Losing more than two percent of your body weight after exercise signals a potentially dangerous loss of fluids.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 300 Americans die each year from heat exposure. In fact, heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the United States, claiming more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined, according to the National Weather Service. Children, the elderly and people who are sick or overweight are especially susceptible.
Short of staying indoors, here are some other common-sense suggestions to beat the heat this summer:
• Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing that reflects the sun;
• Take frequent breaks while working or playing and moderate your activity level;
• Schedule activities during the coolest parts of the day: before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m., and;
• Stay out of the sun.
Even on mild days, it’s dangerous to leave children and pets inside an enclosed vehicle, even if the windows are open. Temperatures quickly can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit or more and have fatal consequences within minutes.
Physicians are primarily concerned with three heat-related illnesses. It’s important for you to recognize their warning signs and take immediate action to cool the body.
• Heat cramps are pains and spasms that tend to occur in the abdomen and legs and are the result of the dehydration. They are the first indicator that the body is struggling to cope with heat. People with cramps should rest in a cool place and drink a glass of cool water every 15 minutes or so. The application of cool, wet cloths can mitigate symptoms.
• Heat exhaustion occurs when sweat is not evaporating fast enough and the body fails to cool. The warning signs include cool, moist or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; dizziness; and nausea. It is often a precursor to heat stroke — the most dangerous heat-induced condition — and requires that the person immediately cease all activity, retire to a cool spot and hydrate. Other efforts to cool the body can include the dampening of skin with cool cloths, the application of cold packs (especially to the armpits and scalp area) and fanning to evaporate excess sweat.
• Heat stroke — also known as sunstroke — is a serious condition in which the body’s temperature control system totally shuts down and can result in organ damage and even death. Symptoms include vomiting; loss of consciousness; body temperature as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit; hot, dry skin (when you stop sweating, you are in trouble); rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Call 911 immediately, move the victim to a cooler place and quickly cool the body with wet sheets, fanning and ice packs.
Thomas P. Hubbell, MD, is a family medicine physician and an active member of the OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital medical staff.