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How to Stay Safe in the Heat

It’s summertime, and many people spend a great deal of time outdoors. However, as the temperature climbs, so does the risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It’s helpful to understand the difference between the two and know how to stay safe as the temperatures soar.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a form of heat sickness that can lead to heatstroke. Symptoms can include: 

  • Heavy sweating with cool, clammy skin 
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea 
  • Fainting 

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

With high temperatures, your heart has to beat faster and work harder to pump blood to the skin’s surface to help you sweat to cool your body. When your body can’t cool itself fast enough, there’s strain put on the heart and your organs can begin to suffer damage. This is a potentially fatal condition known as heat stroke, which requires immediate medical attention.

If you experience the following symptoms, apply cool water to your skin immediately, drink cool (not cold) water, and go to the emergency room as soon as possible:

  • High fever
  • Warm or hot dry skin (without sweating)
  • Pounding pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Lack of consciousness

Doctors in the emergency room may try to bring your temperature down fast by packing you in ice and giving you intravenous fluids.

Richard Hamilton, M.D., Crozer Health’s chief of emergency medicine shares “People who take certain antihistamines and antipsychotic medication can be seriously affected by the heat because the drugs dry out the skin and reduce perspiration. Most emergency room visits for heat-related problems, he said, result from a ‘combination of environment and some kind of medication.’ People who feel weak and tired from heat also run into trouble when they decide to take a nap instead of a drink of water.”  

Tips for Staying Safe in the Heat

A few simple tips can help you prevent both heat exhaustion and heat stroke:

  • Avoid vigorous physical activity in high heat. Wait until the weather cools or move your exercise program to an indoor gym or pool.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink water and sports drinks that contain electrolytes.
  • Stay away from caffeine and alcohol. They can contribute to dehydration.
  • Choose a cooler environment.Turn on your air conditioning. If you don’t have air conditioning, use fans, open windows, and periodically apply cool water to your skin. If your home is still not cool enough, go to a mall, senior center, or friend’s house - anywhere that’s cool enough to keep your body temperature within the normal range.
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing. Light-colored clothing reflects the sun’s rays, rather than absorbing them like dark clothing. Heavy fabrics will trap body heat, while lightweight fabrics allow heat to escape and better allow for your natural sweating processes to cool you.
  • Don’t go outside without sunscreen. It can be harder for your body to stay cool if you have sunburn.

What Should I Do if I Feel Sick?

  • Find someplace cool, or at least shady, rest, and drink lots of water. You can try sports drinks, but Dr. Hamilton said you can recover just as well with water, fruit, and salty crackers.
  • Drink cool, not icy, water so you don’t experience cramping. If you’re really hot, you can take a cool shower or bath.

Heat and the Elderly

The heat can be deadly for elderly people. Dr. Hamilton suggests people should check frequently on older relatives. People who live in houses that are hot can go from being fine to “fairly compromised” in four or five hours.