Heatstroke is no small medical issue. It requires immediate medical attention and can be life-threatening. But with the proper precautions, here are five ways you can avoid heat illness this summer.
Recognize the Symptoms
Heatstroke is the most severe in a series of increasingly severe heat-related conditions that can cause damage to your body. In order to prevent heatstroke, one should first identify the symptoms of heat cramps and heat exhaustion, both of which occur before heat stroke.
Heat cramps are the mildest of heat-related conditions. They feel similar to nighttime leg cramps, but last longer and feel more intense. They typically occur during heavy exercise in a hot environment.
Heat exhaustion is the second most severe form of heat illness. During heat exhaustion, the body may experience heavy sweating, faintness, dizziness, and fatigue. Your pulse may beat faster and more faintly. Muscle cramps may occur, as well as nausea and headaches.
In heatstroke, you can expect similar symptoms from heat exhaustion, and more. The body's core body temperature reading above 104 degrees or higher is the primary symptom of heat stroke. Victims may also suffer from flushed skin, rapid breathing, nausea and vomiting, throbbing headaches and a racing heartbeat.
Take Care of Your Skin
One of the many tools you have to keep your body cool is your skin. First, your skin sweats to produce moisture on the skin. When that moisture evaporates your way, the air against your skin feels cooler.
Sunburn can affect your body's ability to regulate its temperature, so experiencing sunburn during an already hot day can increase your risk of suffering heat illness. That means preventing against getting a sunburn can also help to prevent heat illness.
That means wearing plenty of sunscreen. We recommend applying sunscreen of at least 30 SPF prior to spending time outdoors and reapplying every 40 to 80 minutes or more often if you're swimming or sweating. That also means covering up with dark colors as often as you can and avoiding tanning beds.
Drink Plenty of Water
If you're like 78% of Americans, chances are you are drinking fewer than 8 glasses of water per day - which is about what is recommended to replace lost fluids on a day of normal exertion. On a particularly hot day, when your body is sweating more than normal, you're going to need to consume more water to compensate.
Keep in mind that water isn't the only thing your body loses when it sweats. Your body also loses sodium and other minerals that help you function. If you drink excessive amounts of water to compensate, it is possible that you could experience hyponatremia which, unfortunately, exhibits symptoms similar heat exhaustion—diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
In short - be sure to drink water, yes, but also make sure to supplement that with drinking plenty of fluids that replace lost electrolytes - such as infused water, sports drinks, or milk.
Be Aware of Your Risks
Did you know that certain medications, including some over-the-counter, could put you at an increased risk of heat illness?
Diphenhydramine (commonly used in allergy medication), Pseudoephedrine (commonly used in cold medicines), Timolol (commonly used in medication for hypertension) and Selegiline (used to treat Parkinson's disease) are all linked to having an increased risk of heat sensitivity. That by no means is a reason to give up on your cold medicine at all - just use caution when combining it with long lengths of heat exposure.
Get Out of the Heat
The best way to beat the heat is to simply stay away from it. Limit your exposure to long periods of outdoor activities when the temperatures are above 90 degrees. If your work takes you outside, try to limit your activity as best you can between the hours of 10am and 4pm, when the sun is hottest.
Do your best to stay out of a hot vehicle, as well. It takes no time at all for a stationary vehicle to become unbearably warm, even in the shade or with the windows cracked. Don't leave children or pets in a car for any length of time during the summer.
If you feel any of the symptoms of heat illness during your adventures outdoors this summer, the first thing you should do is rest and take a break. If you begin to feel symptoms as described above, you may want to consider seeking medical attention.
If you have any further questions about how you might cope with the heat this summer—including questions as to ways your medication might contribute towards heat illness—please contact a health professional.