“Even though summer is a time to enjoy the weather outside, people often underestimate the risks that come with the heat,” said Rahul Khare, MD, a Northwestern Memorial emergency department physician. “It’s important to take the necessary steps that will keep you safe and healthy this season.”
Khare treats more than 100 cases of heat-related illnesses every summer, most often heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can occur when body temperatures rise due to dehydration or overexertion in hot weather.
The symptoms of heat exhaustion generally include muscle cramping, aching pain, headaches, nausea, weakness, intense thirst, feeling faint or dizzy, or an increased pulse rate. If a person is experiencing symptoms, replenishing the body with fluids lost from sweating can help maintain the cooling system.
Heat stroke is the most severe of all heat-related diseases and can cause serious disability or death. It occurs happens when the body’s temperature rises quickly as it loses its ability to sweat and cool down.
Symptoms of heat stroke can vary, but include hallucinations, rapid pulse, feeing faint or dizzy, difficulty breathing, confusion or strange behavior, and the absence of sweating with hot red or flushed dry skin.
“Most people who start to develop heat stroke often have no idea they’re in any danger because of mental status changes,” said Khare. “If you think someone is experiencing heat stroke, call 911, get them out of the heat and provide them with fluids.”
Khare suggests hydrating the person with a sports drink filled with electrolytes, sodium and potassium, all components the body loses through sweating along with splashing or spraying their body with cool water.
“It is imperative for people to know the warning signs of heat-related illnesses and to take steps to protect themselves,” said Khare, who recommends the following tips to enjoy the hot sun safely.
Check the clock
Limit the time spent outdoors if you aren’t accustomed to the heat. Avoid outdoor activities during the sun’s strongest hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Wear cool clothing
Choose loose fitting clothing that will be comfortable to help beat the heat. Be sure to cover your face and wear a hat, such as a baseball cap or visor to provide additional protection.
The most important thing to remember is to hydrate. Drink plenty of water or sports drinks to restore body fluids.
Avoid the high humidity
Refrain from intensive outdoor activity in high humidity, which can hinder sweat from evaporating quickly and prevent the body from releasing heat effectively.
Scope out the shade
If you are outside during the sun’s strongest hours, find a shaded spot to rest. The shade from a beach umbrella or large tree can help keep you cool.
While overheating can occur in any healthy individual, the elderly, young children and people with certain medical conditions are at highest risk for heat-related illnesses. For those most susceptible, hot environments should be avoided whenever possible.