Extreme Heat: Heat Rash, Exhaustion, Stroke? Be Prepared!

Extreme heat introduction

This summer has brought a heat wave with unusually high temperatures that have lasted for weeks. High temperatures can be potentially dangerous to one's health.

People suffer heat-related illness when the body's temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating. Under some conditions, sweating is not enough to cool down the body. In such cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.

Several factors affect the body's ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions that can limit the ability to regulate temperature include old age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn, and drug and alcohol use.

Summertime activity, whether on the playing field or the construction site, must be balanced with measures that aid the body's cooling mechanisms and prevent heat-related illness.

During hot weather

To protect your health when temperatures are extremely high, remember to keep cool and use common sense. The following tips are important.

  • Drink Plenty of Fluid

    Increase your fluid intake - regardless of your activity level. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink 2-4 glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour.

    Caution:
    If your doctor has prescribed a fluid-restricted diet or diuretics for you, ask your doctor how much you should drink.

    During hot weather, you will need to drink more liquid than your thirst indicates. This is especially true for people 65 years of age and older who often have a decreased ability to respond to external temperature changes. Drinking plenty of liquids during exercise is especially important. Very cold beverages should be avoided since they can cause stomach cramps. Alcoholic drinks should be avoided since they can actually cause you to lose more fluid.

  • Mineral replacements

    Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. The easiest and safest way to replace salt and minerals is through your diet. Drink fruit juice or a sports beverage during exercise or any work in the heat. Do not take salt tablets unless directed by your doctor. If you are on a low-salt diet, ask your doctor before changing what you eat or drink-especially before drinking a sports beverage.

  • Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen

    Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. In the hot sun, a wide-brimmed hat will provide shade and keep the head cool.

    Sunburn affects your body's ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It causes pain and damages the skin.

    A variety of sunscreens are available to reduce the risk of sunburn. The protection that they offer against sunburn varies. Check the sun protection factor (SPF) number on the label of the sunscreen container. Select SPF 15 or higher to protect yourself adequately. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply according to package directions.

  • Pace Yourself

    If you are unaccustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity, get into a cool area, or at least in the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.

  • Stay Cool Indoors

    The most efficient way to beat the heat is to stay in an air- conditioned area. If you do not have an air conditioner or evaporative cooling unit, consider a visit to a shopping mall or public library for a few hours. Contact your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area. Electric fans may be useful to increase comfort and to draw cool air into your home at night, but do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during a heat wave. When the temperature is in the high 90's F or higher, a fan will not prevent heat-related illness. A cool shower or bath is more effective way to cool off. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.

  • Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully

    If you must be out in the heat, try to plan your activities so that you are outdoors either before noon or in the evening. While outdoors, rest frequently in a shady area. Resting periodically will give your body's thermostat a chance to recover.

  • Use a Buddy System

    When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know anyone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.

  • Monitor Those at High Risk

    Those at greatest risk of heat-related illness include:
    • infants and children up to four years of age
    • people 65 years of age or older
    • people who are overweight
    • people who overexert during work or exercise
    • people who are ill or on certain medications