Preventing Heat Exhaustion

Are there things I should be doing during really hot days to prevent heat exhaustion?

There may be a few diehard winter fans who get excited about powdery ski slopes and replenishing firewood, and there are always those who cannot get enough of spring’s first blossoms and changing colors in the fall, but, for the vast majority of folks, summer is the time of year they most look forward to. Long days filled with sunshine and trips to the beach! What’s not to love about that?

Actually, summer isn’t all fun in the sun and, in fact, should perhaps come with a warning label. If we did provide labels for seasons, summer’s might read something like this:

High temperatures and elevated humidity increase your risk of heat exhaustion and even heat stroke, which can lead to death.

We have all pretty much gotten the message about time in the sun and the importance of sunscreen, but heat exhaustion can also be extremely serious, especially during sports activities. As the outside temperature rises and gets nearer standard body temperature, the risk increases. Those who have conditions like high blood pressure, thyroid disease or diabetes should be even more careful. Certain medications can also increase the likelihood of suffering heat exhaustion because they affect the body’s ability to regulate its own temperature. Some of the more common ones are diuretics, blood pressure medicine, allergy medications, cough and cold medicines, laxatives and benzodiazepines. As the number of risk factors increase, the less heat and exertion are required for someone to get into trouble.

Heat Exhaustion Warning Signs

The best plan is always prevention. Heat exhaustion is serious enough, but it’s even more important to catch it before it gets to the heat stroke level. That can be fatal. The good news is that there are warning signs to look for:

  • Headache – throbbing headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin – skin may turn red as body temperature rises
  • Changes in breathing – breathing may become rapid and shallow
  • Heart rate increase – heat stresses the heart as it works harder to help cool the body
  • Alteration in sweating – heat stroke resulting from hot weather will cause skin to feel hot and dry but heat stroke brought on by strenuous exercise may result in skin feeling damp
  • High body temperature – 104 F (40 C) or higher is a red flag for heat stroke
  • Altered mental state – confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all follow heat stroke

Obviously, if someone is experiencing or in danger of going into heat stroke, seek medical attention, immediately. In the interim, do whatever you can to cool the overheated individual. Get them out of the sun and heat. Remove excess clothing. Cool them down in a tub, shower or other means available, including using ice packs or cold, wet towels. These are especially effective on the head, neck, armpits and groin area.

To avoid getting into a heat exhaustion or heat stroke state, there are certain common sense practices to follow:

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing
  • Sunburn affects the body’s ability to cool itself so use sunscreen and other protective measures.
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Be vigilant about the possibility of heat-related issues with any medication you take
  • Be smart about what you do during the hottest part of the day
  • Do not get caught up in activities, like sports, and lose track of these basic precautions
  • Never leave anyone in a hot parked car for any length of time whatsoever

A little common sense can go a long way to avoid getting into trouble by becoming overheated. Stay smart and enjoy your summer!

If you have questions about heat exhaustion or any other issue related to sports medicine, the physicians and staff of Orthopaedic & Sports Associates of Long Island are very experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in a state-of-the-art facility. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please call (516) 364-0070. Our convenient online contact form is also available by clicking here.

Posted in: Sports Medicine

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