“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, an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “It’s important to take the necessary steps that will keep you safe and healthy this season.”
Heat-related illnesses occur quite commonly, leading Khare to treat more than 100 cases each summer, most often heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can develop when body temperatures rise because of 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. Replenishing with fluids can help maintain the body’s cooling system, relieving the symptoms.
“The most severe of all heat-related diseases is heat stroke, which can cause serious disability or death,” said Khare, who is also an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “If the body’s temperature rises too quickly, it loses its ability to sweat and cool down causing heat stroke.”
Symptoms of heat stroke vary, but often 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 fluids.”
Khare recommends lowering their body temperature by splashing or spraying the victim with cool water and hydrating them with a sports drink filled with electrolytes, sodium and potassium, all components the body loses through sweating.
“It is imperative for people to know the warning signs of heat-related illnesses and to take steps to protect themselves,” said Khare.
When heading outdoors to enjoy the summer sun, Khare recommends the following safety tips:
Scope out the shade
Enjoy the outdoors in a shaded location. Whether under a beach umbrella or large tree, find a shaded spot to keep you cool.
Avoid the high humidity
Humidity can keep sweat from evaporating quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat effectively. Refrain from intensive outdoor activity in high humidity, and if active try to drink between two to four glasses of water an hour.
Wear cool clothing
Beat the heat by choosing loose fitting clothing and a hat. Baseball caps and visors provide great protection along with light-colored natural fabric clothing.
Check the clock
Limit the time spent outdoors if you aren’t accustomed to the heat. Avoid outdoor activities and schedule around the sun’s strongest hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Most importantly, remember to hydrate. Drink plenty of water or sports drinks to restore body fluids, and avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, alcohol, and soda.
Heat-related illnesses can occur in any healthy individual, but some groups are at higher risk. “People with certain medical conditions, the elderly, and young children should take extra precautions,” warned Khare. “For those most susceptible, hot environments should be avoided whenever possible.”
Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery.
To find a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, call 312-926-0779.