I have several friends who “don’t like to sweat.” Sure, it’s not comfortable (or attractive) to get all wet at an outdoor wedding or during a big presentation, but if you spend any time working or playing outside in the summer, you learn to appreciate the sticky, salty perspiration that naturally cools your body. While most folks are familiar with the risk of hypothermia in wintertime, fewer people realize summer’s heat and humidity bring on the risk of hyperthermia. This broad term refers to the rise in body temperature that causes heat-related illnesses – from minor heat rash to life-threatening heatstroke.
Because the heat index is a more accurate representation of how hot it feels outside to your body, be sure to watch for it.
Photo Credit: Megan Bame
If you start to feel lightheaded in the heat, sit down and rest – and be sure to drink plenty of hydrating fluids.
Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho
Like Mom always said, “Prevention is the best medicine.” With that in mind, here are a few tips to follow when trying to beat the heat:
- Avoid outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day. (Yes, this includes gardening.)
- Stay hydrated by drinking water often – even if you’re not thirsty. Don’t drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol.
- Avoid overexertion. Take frequent rests – preferably in the shade – while you work outside.
- Wear light-colored clothing to reflect the heat. (Be sure to apply sunscreen to exposed skin.)
If you do spend a lot of time outside in summer, you may witness or experience a heat-related illness. So be aware of the signs, because it’s vital to quickly recognize any problem so you can treat it before it becomes serious. If you ignore the symptoms, it could progress to a deadly heatstroke.
Here’s a look at each potential heat-related danger, progressing from least serious to most serious:
- Signs: Blocked sweat ducts swell, causing discomfort and itching.
- Treatment: Heat rash will go away naturally after a few days. Stay in a cooler, less humid environment than outside, and avoid using ointments or creams that keep the skin warm and moist. A light powder may offer some relief to the affected area.
- Signs: Muscular pains and spasms occur due to heavy exertion – it’s an early signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.
- Treatment: Move to a cooler area and lightly stretch the affected muscle. Replenish your body’s fluids by drinking a half-glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
- Signs: You’ll experience faintness, dizziness or a headache, along with an increased pulse rate and restlessness. It may hit you suddenly, and it’s often brought on by exertion and dehydration.
- Treatment: Lie down or sit in a cool environment with your feet elevated, and rehydrate with water or a sports drink (to replenish salts). Rest – don’t take on any more vigorous activity for the rest of the day.
- Signs: You’ll experience thirst, dizziness, weakness, uncoordinated movements, nausea and profuse sweating. Your body temperature will stay normal, but your skin will feel cold and clammy.
- Treatment: Lie down in a cool environment and drink plenty of fluids – but don’t drink too much, too quickly. Seek medical care, and closely monitor your body’s temperature (it should stay below 103 degrees F) to ensure the illness doesn’t progress to heatstroke. Refrain from further activity for the rest of the day.
- Signs: Skin feels hot, and there’s no perspiration. (Body temperature reaches over 104 degrees F.) A person with heatstroke may be confused, faint, stagger and have mood swings.
- Treatment: Call 9-1-1 right away, and try to reduce the body temperature immediately. Move the person to a cooler spot, remove clothing and apply cool, wet towels or pour water on the extremities. Fan the victim to increase air circulation and evaporation, and massage the extremities to encourage the circulation of cooled blood. Don’t let them drink anything. Administer CPR if necessary.
Heat-related illness is a very serious matter, so pay close attention to your body’s reaction to the heat. The combination of high temperatures and high humidity makes your body work harder to regulate its normal temperature (98.6 degrees F). Whether you’re working hard or playing hard, be careful not to overheat. Be prepared if your body starts telling you to “cool it,” and keep an eye on the kids and elderly, who are most susceptible to heat-related problems. We can enjoy and work in our gardens all summer long – just be sure to do it safely!