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Summer weather means getting outside and having fun or working in the yard, but too much heat can make you sick. Your body normally cools itself as your sweat evaporates, but during extremely hot weather, when the humidity is high, sweat can't evaporate very well. These conditions can cause the temperature of your body to become dangerously high. High body temperatures can cause severe illness or even death. Read on to learn more about the different types of heat illnesses.
There are four different types of heat illness:
1. Heat Stroke
Heat Stroke is the most severe of all heat-related illnesses. It can occur when your body temperature rises very quickly (above 103 0F) and your body’s cooling mechanism fails. If someone experiences any of the following warning signs, cool them rapidly using whatever methods you can and call 911 for immediate medical assistance.
Heatstroke Warning Signs
- Body temperature above 103 0F
- Red, hot, dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid pulse
- Throbbing headache
2. Heat Exhaustion
Heat Exhaustion is a milder form of heat illness, but is still very serious. Heat exhaustion can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures combined with not getting enough fluids to replace what is lost in sweat. If you or someone else experiences any of the following warning signs, getting cool, drinking fluids and getting rest are best.
- Heat Exhaustion Warning Signs
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
3. Heat Cramps
Muscle pains or spasms from heat can occur as sweating depletes the salt and fluids from your body. Heat/muscle cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. If you experience heat/muscle cramps, stop all activity and rest in a cool place. Drink clear juice or a sports beverage to replace lost fluids and minerals. Seek medical attention if cramps do not subside in one-hour.
Sunburned skin is red, painful and abnormally warm. Sunburn should be avoided because it damages the skin, affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of fluids. Severe sunburns can cause fever, blistering and severe pain. Seek medical attention if an infant under the age of one year is affected by sunburn, or if you experience symptoms of severe sunburn.
Some individuals are more sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and may be at greater risk for heat illness, including:
- Infants and young children
- People 65 years of age and older
- People who are overweight
- People who overexert themselves during exercise or work
- People who are physically or mentally ill
- People with chronic medical conditions (heart disease, respiratory conditions, diabetes, etc.)
How to Stay Healthy
Heat related illness and death are completely preventable so it is important to understand what you can do to keep yourself healthy when temperatures are extremely high. Use common sense and be especially mindful of when the heat index is above 100 degrees.
- Keep cool indoors. Use an air conditioner or go to a cool place such as the basement, a neighbor's house, shopping mall or cooling center. Even a few hours in the air conditioning will help you stay cool when you go back into the heat. Electric fans provide comfort, but they will not keep you cool when the temperature is in the high 90's.
- Take a cool shower or bath
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, don't wait until you are thirsty (*warning: you should check with your doctor first if he or she has limited your fluid intake for medical reasons, such as with kidney disease). Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks such as pop. These beverages may actually dehydrate you even more.
- Avoid exercise and physical activity during the hottest time of the day. Mornings and evenings are usually cooler than mid-day. If you must exercise, drink 2-4 glasses of cool, non-alcoholic beverages every hour. Sports beverages can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.
- Stay out of the sun. Wear sun protective clothing like a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and apply a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB protectant) sunscreen SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes prior to going outside to protect yourself against sunburn.
- Check on family, friends and neighbors at least once a day during times of extreme heat. Help them get to a cool place if necessary.
- NEVER leave children, the elderly, or pets in parked cars. Cars heat up very quickly and can become dangerously hot, even with the windows open.