Heat-Related Illness Prevention
Many people enjoy outdoor sports and outdoor activities, but it’s important to understand the dangers of heat-related injuries during warm, summer months. Taking the proper precautions against heat-related illnesses and injuries can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
Types of Heat-Related Illnesses
Heat can cause many types of injuries and illnesses. Dehydration and heavy sweating can cause heat exhaustion. This condition entails rising body temperature, decreased perspiration, headaches, dizziness, excessive thirst, and weakness. The body also needs electrolytes and salts to regulate temperature. Salt or electrolyte depletion can also lead to heat exhaustion, so anyone engaging in outdoor sports or activities should consider sports drinks to replace lost electrolytes.
A more severe form of heat-related illness is heat stroke. A heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. During a heat stroke, the body cannot cool itself. The body temperature may reach or exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit and organ failure may occur. Heat stroke symptoms often include nausea, confusion, headaches, disorientation, seizures, and unconsciousness. Heat strokes can be fatal without prompt medical care. Some people who experience heat exhaustion quickly progress into heat strokes, so any signs of heat-related illness should be taken very seriously.
Consider some of the following best practices to reduce the likelihood of suffering a heat-related illness:
- Hydration. Drink plenty of fluids before any outdoor activity, especially during hot weather. If you plan to spend an extended time in a hot environment, make sure you have a plentiful supply of water on hand. Even mild levels of dehydration can create serious problems in extreme heat, so prepare accordingly and take water outside with you.
- Shade. Few clouds mean more sun exposure, so take care to protect your skin on sunny days. Too much sun exposure can cause sunburn and even some skin cancers over time. Direct exposure to the sun also increases your body temperature, making it more difficult to cool down.
- Weather. Humidity and wind can affect how hot it feels outside as well as how well your body cools itself. In areas with high humidity, sweat has a more difficult time evaporating and does not cool the skin as well.
- Clothing. Darker clothing absorbs more heat, so opt for lighter clothing choices when venturing outdoors in the heat. Playing sports like football that require heavy padding make dark clothing more of an issue, as the body’s temperature rises and has more trouble cooling.
- Fitness level. Individuals or people who are unaccustomed to outdoor activity will have more difficulty handling hot weather. These individuals should afford themselves adequate time to adjust to the heat and take frequent breaks whenever necessary.
- Age. Adults adjust to heat much faster than children. Parents, teachers, and supervisors need to mind children’s hydration and activity levels when spending time outdoors. Children are more susceptible to heat injuries than adults, but older adults and the elderly may have trouble adjusting to the heat as well.
These are just a few of the ways you can prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries. Prevention is crucial, so consider these tips and use good judgment when engaging in outdoor activities. If you are concerned about your past medical issues or experiences with heat-related illnesses, speak with your doctor before beginning any new outdoor activities to ensure proper preparation.