By Adrian Sparrow
There are multiple heat illnesses: Heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Heatstroke is the most serious, which can occur if your body can’t control its internal temperature and it reaches at least 104 F. Dehydration and high temperatures can cause the body’s internal cooling system to break down.
Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. When left untreated, heatstroke damages the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and muscles and can lead to severe complications or death.
Working or exercising in the heat for an extended period without adequate hydration or rest periods can cause heat illness. There are several risk factors for heat illness, including age, weight, and certain substances, including alcohol and prescription medications. A high heat index can also contribute to heat illness, as humidity can make it harder for your body to cool itself with sweat.
Many heat illnesses begin with heat cramps, which are caused by extreme heat and dehydration and usually happen in the legs or stomach. Heat exhaustion occurs next when the body loses excess water and sodium, and its internal temperature rises. Heatstroke occurs when your body can no longer cool itself down.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, dizziness, nausea, pale, clammy skin, profuse sweating, weakness, and a temperature above 100 F.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Symptoms can include a body temperature above 104 F, flushed red skin, changes in sweating, nausea and vomiting, rapid breathing, fast pulse, headache, changes in mental state or behavior, loss of consciousness, and seizure.
In the event of heat illnesses, steps can be taken at home to recover. First, move to a shaded or cooler area to recover, and lie down if you feel dizzy. Remove any extra or unnecessary clothes, such as jackets, shoes, or socks; hydrate with water or sports drinks, and take a cool shower to decrease your body temperature. Avoid icy cold drinks as they can cause cramps while your body is overheated.
Home remedies aren’t enough to reverse heatstroke, but others can help cool the person experiencing heatstroke while waiting for emergency services. Move the person to a cool, shady area with circulating air. Use a cold compress or cloth to help lower body temperature. Their doctor might cover them in ice packs, wrap them in a cooling blanket, or even place them in an ice bath.
With early intervention and treatment, people can fully recover from heat-related illnesses.
Heatstroke is predictable and preventable. By reducing your time and exertion in hot weather, you can reduce your risk for heat illnesses.
Drink plenty of fluids- sports drinks with sodium or water with a bit of salt added- this helps your body sweat and maintain an average body temperature. Drink water even if you don’t feel thirsty- thirst isn’t a reliable indicator of hydration. Avoid alcohol and drinks with extra sugar or caffeine, which can further dehydrate you.
Wear loose, lightweight clothing to stay cooler longer. Thick or restrictive clothing can trap heat. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face.
Take time to acclimate to warmer temperatures whenever possible, especially if you’re participating in sports or other heavy exertion in the summer. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust to hot weather, and in the meantime, you’re more susceptible to heat illnesses. Take frequent breaks when you’re working or exercising in the heat. Try to do activities in an air-conditioned environment on days that are forecast to be particularly hot.
Whether you’re used to the heat or not, take it easy during the hottest part of the day. Save exercise or physical labor for early morning or evening when it’s cooler out. If you can’t avoid being out in the middle of the day, drink plenty of fluids and rest often in a cool, shady spot.
Some medications and illnesses can alter your body’s ability to cool itself or your perception of heat, which increases your risk of heat illnesses. Act quickly if you notice signs of overheating, even if it’s not yet to the extent of heatstroke.