Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can make you susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Did you know that it only takes 10-15 minutes for your internal body temperature to increase and cause heat-related symptoms? Whether you're hiking, camping, playing tennis, or even just enjoying a picnic or potluck with friends, it’s important to prepare beforehand so you can avoid getting sick.
- Watch for symptoms. The early signs of heat exhaustion (which is a precursor to heat stroke) include:
- Muscle cramps
If you notice any of these symptoms, find a cooler environment to rest. Drink plenty of fluids and change clothing to lighter layers. Keep a close eye on the person experiencing these symptoms, as it could turn into heat stroke. Common symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Hot, dry skin
- A body temperature above 103 degrees
- Consistent, pounding headache
If you or someone you are with has these symptoms, it's important to cool down immediately. Submerge in water, take off layers of clothing or find shade. Heat stroke is serious, so you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
To help avoid problems, a few precautions can go a long way:
- Rethink outdoor activities when the heat is extreme. Extremely high temperatures and humidity can be dangerous for anyone – no matter the age or fitness level. On those days, consider staying indoors or limiting activities to venues with air conditioning, such as movie theaters.
- Avoid the hottest part of the day. Try to schedule activities earlier in the day or later in the afternoon, when the sun's rays aren’t as intense and the temperatures are a bit cooler.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is critical in high heat. Water can help regulate temperature and flush toxins out of the body. If you're going hiking, camping or anywhere outside, make sure to pack enough water so you can stay adequately hydrated.
- Wear a hat that allows for circulation. We lose 50% of our body heat from our head, so while a hat is critical for protecting your skin and helping keep you cool, make sure it’s breathable and allows for air circulation as you sweat.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol (and coffee) may be liquid, but they both increase your risk for dehydration – a key factor in health related illnesses. Since both also act as a diuretic, you'll likely urinate more and lose fluids more rapidly. Choose cool water instead.
- Be especially cautious with babies, young children and older adults. They are often at higher risk for heat-related sickness, so limit their time outside on hot days, make sure they spend more time in the shade, and watch closely for any signs of early problems.
- Don't forget your sunscreen. As always, any time you are out in the sun, it's important to protect all exposed areas of your skin with a high SPF sunscreen – preferably 30 SPF or higher. And, don't forget to reapply frequently, as increased sweating in the heat can wash it away quicker.
While hot summer days can be dangerous, if you're well prepared, your outdoor activities can remain fun and enjoyable. Keep an eye on your weather app and do research on locations of camp sites, hiking trails, concert venues and more before traveling. Some locations may contain water sources, but it's always best to pack your own.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.