Keep Your Cool: How to prevent heat-related illness this summer
June 28, 2018
The pools are splashing. Campgrounds and ball fields are hopping. And the highways are filled with families heading out to spend quality time at beaches, mountains and other fun destinations across the country. All of this outdoor activity can only mean one thing – summer has officially arrived! And while now can be the perfect time to enjoy fun in the sun and fill up on vitamin D, it’s important to take the proper precautions against getting overheated as the temperatures climb this time of year.
Summer can be one of the most fun times of the year, but also one of the most dangerous because people can get overheated quite quickly. While our bodies cool themselves by sweating, there are certain conditions that affect their capability to do so, including inadequate hydration, extreme temperatures, high humidity, high blood pressure, sunburn, prescription drug use and alcohol use. When the body loses too much water and salt, and is unable to cool itself, heat-related illness may occur.
There are three types of heat-related conditions: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat cramps typically happen in the stomach and legs. They’re often the first sign of a heat-related illness and can lead to more serious conditions like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion occurs when your body loses too much water and salt, and can’t cool itself. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, elevated body temperatures, decreased urine output and skin that appears cool, moist, pale, ashen or flushed. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening illness that occurs when the body has lost excessive amounts of water and salt, and is overwhelmed by the heat. It requires immediate medical attention.
If you or someone else is experiencing a heat-related illness, you should:
- Call 9-1-1 immediately;
- Stay with the person until emergency medical personnel arrive;
- Move them to a shaded, cool area and remove any heavy, excess clothing;
- Cool them down quickly with cold water, an ice bath or cold wet cloths or ice on the head, neck, armpits and groin area; and
- Circulate air around the person to speed up the cooling.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 600 people in the U.S. die from extreme heat each year. Fortunately, preventing heat-related illnesses is easy. There are some simple tips you can remember to defend you and others from heat-related illness and stay cool when the thermometer climbs.
- Drink plenty of water
- Look for shady areas to play and rest
- Take frequent breaks when enjoying the outdoors
- Limit your outdoor activity when temperatures are at their highest – usually between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- NEVER leave babies, children or animals in a car unattended
- Stay mindful of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness
- Be aware of your body’s limits
Know when to stop. Many of us may feel mild heat-related symptoms and think we can just push through. But we need to listen to our bodies and be alert to those around us, especially children and senior adults, so that we can quickly spot the warning signs and take the proper steps to address heat-related illness.
For more tips on heat safety and what to do when heat-related illness strikes, visit www.weather.gov/safety-heat-illness and www.redcross.org/get-help-how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/heat-wave-safety#About.
Be heat-smart so you can stay cool all summer long.
Edwin Yaeger, D.O., is a board certified Emergency Medicine physician.