People often celebrate rising temperatures as they envision themselves lounging in a white wicker chair in their backyards, listening to the radio and sipping iced tea. While warm weather can certainly be pleasant, particularly after enduring months of hiding in your house during a frigid winter, it has its own dangers. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in July 2011, "On average, 675 people die from complications related to extreme heat each year in the United States - more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, lightning or any other weather event combined." Warm weather really is an instance when you can have too much of a good thing.
What Causes Heat Related Illness?
Under normal circumstances, your nervous system regulates your body temperature to keep it within an acceptable range. It does this through various heat transfer methods including sweating and constricting or dilating the blood vessels. However, adverse environmental conditions such as extreme heat can disrupt the body's normal thermoregulation processes. Heat related illness occurs when our bodies can no longer transfer enough heat to properly regulate internal temperature. This is very different from high body temperature that results from a fever. Fever induced high temperatures are simply a natural byproduct of your body's immune system fighting invading microorganisms. Heat related illnesses can include heatstroke, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps.
Is Heatstroke Really an Emergency?
YES. Heatstroke is always an emergency situation which requires immediate medical attention. Untreated heatstroke can easily result in death. If someone who has been subjected to a hot environment for a period of time exhibits seizures, loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, confusion, or severe vomiting or diarrhea, they need to be transported to a hospital immediately. Heatstroke is a serious, life threatening condition.
How to Prevent Heat Related Illness
The only way to really protect yourself from heatstroke and other heat related illness is to stay cool. An overall "keeping cool" strategy should include:
- Being Aware
Be aware of spiking temperatures and know when the hottest part of the day is (generally between 10am and 4pm). Simply being cognizant of the danger that extreme heat exposure poses may be enough to help prevent you and others from falling victim to it.
- Staying Hydrated
You need to drink copious amounts of fluid before, during, and after exposure to hot temperatures. If you are engaging in strenuous physical activity, you will need to consume even more water and consider supplementing it with sports drinks like Gatorade which can replace lost salts and other essential nutrients. You should avoid sugary drinks, alcoholic beverages, and anything containing caffeine as they will actually dehydrate you further. Monitoring your urine output can help you keep tabs on whether or not you are properly hydrated. Your urine should be pale yellow, not dark, and you should urinate every few hours if you are well hydrated.
- Limiting Exposure
Perhaps the easiest preventive measure you can take on a really hot day is to simply stay inside or in the shade where it is markedly cooler. If you do go outside, wait until after 4 pm when the sun has lessened in intensity and temperatures have begun to drop. If you do go out in mid-day, either to be by the pool, to be in your garden, or to work, make use of things like misting fans or patio umbrellas to make your experience more enjoyable.
- Protecting Yourself
If you simply must go out during the hottest parts of the day then you need to protect yourself by wearing a broad brimmed hat and sunscreen. Sunscreen should be broad spectrum (meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays) and at least SPF 30.
Warm temperatures can be a lot of fun, but to avoid potentially life threatening heat related conditions, you need to protect yourself and beat the heat.
Written and published on behalf of Mr. David Shank Jr. He is the VP of sales for Cool-Off, a leading provider of misting systems and more.