“Many people are eager to enjoy summer weather that they underestimate the risks,” says Rahul Khare, MD, a Northwestern Memorial emergency department physician. “It’s important to take precautions that will keep you safe in the sun and healthy during the summer season.”
Khare treats numerous cases of heat-related illnesses every summer. The more dangerous heat problems include heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can affect all age groups.
Heat exhaustion can occur when body temperatures rise due to dehydration or overexertion in hot weather. When you are out in the sun, you sweat, which naturally cools your body. Sweating also means that the body is losing essential fluids and salts or electrolytes.
“Symptoms of heat exhaustion can vary, but generally include muscle cramping, aching pain, headaches, nausea, weakness, intense thirst, feeling faint or dizzy, or an increased pulse rate”, says Khare. “Replenishing the body with water and/or sports drinks can help maintain the cooling system.”
Heat stroke is the most severe of all heat-related diseases, and can cause death or serious disabilities. Normally, your body temperature remains around 98.6 degrees. When you are out in the sun it rises to upwards of 103 degrees. Your body simply can’t dissipate all of its warmth into the environment, so it starts storing the heat. The high temperature in your body becomes too much for your organs, which will start malfunctioning, and your body will lose its ability to sweat. This causes your body to overheat.
“The biggest problem with heat stroke is that most people who start to develop heat stroke often have it have no idea they’re in any danger because of mental status changes,” adds Khare.
Symptoms of heat stroke can differ, but include hallucinations, rapid pulse, feeling faint or dizzy, difficulty breathing, confusion or strange behavior, and the absence of sweating with hot red or flushed dry skin.
“If you think someone is experiencing heat stroke, call 911, get them out of the heat and provide them with fluids,” adds Khare.
Khare recommends hydrating with a sports drink because many of them have electrolytes — sodium and potassium — all components the body loses through sweating. After getting them out of the heat and into a cool place, splash or spray their body with cool water and place ice packs on their armpits, groin, head and neck if possible.
Khare says heat related illnesses are preventable if you follow these tips:
• Limit time spent outdoors if you aren’t accustomed to the heat and wear loose clothing that allows your body to breath
• Avoid strenuous outdoor activities during the hottest time of the day, which is typically between 11am and 3pm
• Refrain from intensive outdoor activity in high humidity, which can hinder sweat from evaporating quickly and prevent the body from releasing heat effectively
• The most important tip is to remember to hydrate. Rehydration is recommended by drinking fluids. Many sports drinks can effectively restore body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance.
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.
Media Relations Associate