With temperatures and heat indexes high, you need to be watchful for heat-related illnesses. Under normal conditions, your nervous system maintains a healthy body temperature through sweating and thermoregulation — the blood flow to your skin. If your body can’t transfer enough heat to keep cool, you are at risk for a heat-related illness, like the ones here:
- Hyperthermia is an excessively high body temperature. It can develop rapidly in extremely hot environments, like the inside of a car parked in the sun or a poorly ventilated attic.
- Heat rash or prickly heat is caused when your sweat ducts become blocked. The affected area may swell or itch. This isn’t a serious health problem, but it can cause some serious discomfort.
- Heat cramps occur when sweating causes the body to lose water, salt, and minerals. Your muscles may cramp up after exercise if you are not drinking enough water or a sports drink like Gatorade. You should avoid exercising during the hottest parts of the day — work out early in the morning before it gets too hot or after the sun has started to go down.
- Heat edema, or swelling in the legs and hands can show up if you sit or stand for a long time in a hot environment. Keep moving, if you can, to help keep your circulatory system working. Swing your arms, march in place, and take stretch breaks regularly.
- Heat exhaustion generally develops as a result of dehydration. If you are working or exercising in hot weather and do not drink enough liquids to replace what you sweat away, you may end up with a case of heat exhaustion. You should get out of the sun and into the shade and start drinking. Heat exhaustion may need medical treatment.
- Heatstroke, or Sunstroke, can be a life threatening medical emergency. If your body cannot regulate its temperature, you may run a fever of 105 degrees or higher. Get out of the sun and seek immediate treatment!
Many heat-related illnesses can be avoided by keeping cool and drinking plenty of liquids. Both external conditions (like the weather) and your own health have an impact on your body’s ability to stay cool.
Use this checklist to help protect yourself and your loved ones from a heat-related illness.
- Are you drinking enough water? Dehydration can lead to heat-related illnesses. Drinking caffeine and alcohol can actually increase your risk of dehydration, so make sure that for every cup of coffee you drink, you have two glasses of water.
- Are you exercising at the right times? Don’t work out during the hottest part of the day! Schedule your exercise for early morning, before it gets too hot, or late in the day after the sun has gone down.
- Do you work outdoors? Dress properly for the weather. Shield yourself from the sun, but don’t overdress. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated drinks. Take breaks in the shade to give your body a chance to cool off.
- Check your medicines. Some medications limit blood flow to the skin, making your body less able to cool itself. Other medications can alter your sense of thirst. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about your medications and how they may affect you in hot weather.
- Are you carrying extra weight? Overweight people have decreased blood flow to the skin and can hold in heat thanks to that insulating layer of fat. If you are overweight, you also have a greater body mass to try to cool. Losing weight, in the long run, will help your body better manage high temperatures.
- Are you watching the weather? Know when a heat wave is coming and act accordingly. Check the Weather Channel or your local news for information about temperatures and heat indexes. If you live in a city, you may find the tall buildings trapping heat (and pollutants).
- Check your children. Babies do not sweat effectively, but can lose heat quickly thanks to a large body surface compared to weight. Don’t leave your baby unattended in a parked car or a room without good ventilation!
- Check the elderly. Older adults tend to not sweat easily. Other health conditions may also affect their ability to regulate body temperatures.