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Avoid, Spot, Treat: How to Keep Heat-Related Illness From Spoiling Summer Fun

Healthy Lifestyle
Published: Aug. 3, 2020

 

One silver lining of COVID-19 is that many of us are spending more time outside, whether we’re taking walks, going to parks or exploring new hobbies like gardening and bike riding.

And as the sunshine beckons us outdoors, the combination of heat and humidity during these summer months can pose risks for those indoors and out. Here’s what you should know about heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other heat-related health issues.

 

How your body works to keep cool

Your body is an amazing machine in so many ways. One of its many features is temperature control.

When things get too hot, your body responds by pumping more blood closer to the surface of your skin, allowing heat to escape. And, of course, you sweat. The sweating itself isn’t what cools you down; rather, you’re cooled as sweat evaporates. On hot, humid days, that evaporation doesn’t come so easy, and your body works even harder to keep things cool. That can be a formula for trouble.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a simple slogan when it comes to heat-related illness: Avoid, spot, treat. Taking steps to prevent these health problems is the best thing you can do to keep yourself and others safe, but you should also take the time to educate yourself on identifying and treating them. 

 

Avoiding heat-related illness

Don’t wait until you start to feel the effects of heat-related illness. The best thing you can do is take action to prevent them. You’ve probably heard the following tips, but they’re worth a reminder.

Stay informed. Check the latest weather forecast so you can plan accordingly.

Stay inside. Limit your time outdoors as much as possible and seek air-conditioned places. Avoid using your stove or oven, and take a cool shower or bath. If you have outdoor chores or activities planned, try to complete them in the morning or evening.

Dress appropriately. Wear a hat, sunglasses and lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Don’t forget the sunscreen. Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and reapply as directed. Sunburn can make it harder for your body to cool down and contribute to dehydration.

Take it easy. On these hot days, it’s OK to give yourself more time to complete your tasks. Remember to slow down and take frequent breaks.

Listen to your body. If you aren’t feeling well, that’s your body telling you something. Don’t ignore it.

Let it flow. Don’t wait to drink until you’re thirsty – when in doubt, take a sip. Even if you’re not outdoors or active, keep your fluid intake high, but avoid sugary or alcoholic drinks. Sports drinks can help many people replace the minerals lost through sweating. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what’s best for you if you take water pills, are on a low-salt diet, have diabetes or high blood pressure, or have other chronic conditions.

Watch out for others. Remember to check in on relatives, friends and neighbors who are at high risk for heat-related illness. Keep an eye on kids and pets, too, and NEVER leave them in a closed, parked vehicle.

 

Spotting and treating heat-related illness

Still, over 600 people are killed by extreme heat every year in America. Knowing the signs of heat-related illness and how to respond can be the difference between life and death.

 

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a medical emergency that can lead to death. The signs of heatstroke are:

  • High body temperature (103 degrees or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry or damp skin
  • A fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

What to do: 

  • Call 911 (This is an emergency!)
  • Move the person to a cooler place
  • Help lower the person’s temperature with a cool bath or cool cloths
  • DO NOT give the person anything to drink

 

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion isn’t always an emergency, but you should take it seriously. It can be a precursor to heatstroke. The signs of heat exhaustion are:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale and clammy skin
  • A fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea of vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting

What to do:

  • Move the person to a cool place
  • Loosen their clothes
  • Put cool, wet cloths on the person’s body or have them take a cool bath
  • Sip water

Seek medical help immediately if the person is vomiting, their symptoms get worse or they last longer than an hour.

 

Other conditions

Heat cramps: These are characterized by heavy sweating during intense exercise and muscle pain or spasms. 

What to do:

  • Stop the physical activity, and move to a cool place
  • Drink water or a sports drink
  • Wait for the cramps to subside before resuming physical activity

Sunburn: You’ve probably experienced this at least once – skin that’s painful, red and warm to the touch, sometimes with blisters.

What to do:

  • Avoid the sun until your sunburn heals
  • Take a cool bath or cover the sunburn with cool cloths
  • Apply moisturizing lotion
  • Leave the blisters alone; don’t break them

Heat rash: This is marked by clusters of small red blisters that look by pimples. They usually appear on the neck, chest or groin, or in elbow creases.
What to do:

  • Stay in a cool, dry place
  • Keep the rash dry
  • Use a powder (like baby powder) to soothe the rash

 

Be safe this summer

The summer months are a great time to get outside and make memories. With the proper precautions, you can avoid heat-related illness and still enjoy the things you love. If you have questions about what’s best for the safety of you and your loved ones, contact your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary provider.

More resources

Misty Janssen

About the Author:

Dr. Misty Janssen, a family medicine physician at Methodist Fremont Health Family Care, says that when a patient visits her, they can expect kindness, respect and a teammate on their health journey.

“I want them to know that I have their best interests at heart,” she said. “I have their back.”
 

See More Articles by Misty Janssen