Your Secret Weapon to Staying Safe in the Heat
Jul 20, 2022 | Urgent Care | Share:
It’s summertime in Alabama. And if you haven’t noticed, it’s a bit hot outside.
And while the heat in Alabama is what makes trips to the lake or days by the pool so enjoyable, it also comes with some risks. Besides just being uncomfortable, excessive heat can cause heat-related illness if you’re not careful.
So how do you stay safe in the heat? Hydration is your secret weapon. And it’s especially important to know the signs of heat illnesses so that you can take quick action if needed.
What are Heat Illnesses?
Heat illnesses are illnesses that occur as a result of high heat and humidity. Heat illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke and can occur as a result of lost fluids and salt while in extreme heat. With heat indexes often above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Alabama during the summer, everyone needs to know the signs of these illnesses and how to prevent them.
Have you ever seen a college football player go down at the end of a play clutching their calf in pain? You’re seeing heat cramps in action. Heat cramps are muscle cramps that occur during times of exertion in the heat and are caused by a loss of moisture and salt in the muscle. Athletes and those working outside in the heat are especially at risk of developing heat cramps.
Thes painful cramps usually occur in the muscles of your legs, arms, or abdomen. If you ever experience heat cramps, you shouldn’t try you push through the pain: your body is telling you to pay attention. Heat cramps can also be a sign of heat exhaustion and should not be ignored. If you have heat cramps, you should rest and drink plenty of water.
Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps, and you don’t have to be exercising or active in the heat to experience it. Anyone can experience heat exhaustion on a hot day, and it’s caused by a loss of water and salt - usually through sweating.
Heat exhaustion causes you to feel sick, and its name can be misleading. While fatigue can be a symptom of heat exhaustion, it isn’t the only one. Symptoms include:
- Excessive sweating
- Weakness or fatigue
- Low urine output or dark urine
Heat exhaustion is urgent, but is not an emergency. Immediate treatment is needed, as untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat and begin drinking small sips of cool water. You can also mist your skin with cool water or place cool compresses on your arms and legs. If you think you have heat exhaustion, you should visit an urgent care doctor for evaluation and possible rehydration.
Heat stroke is the most serious of these heat-related illnesses and can be deadly if it isn’t treated. Your body has several mechanisms to regulate your body temperature, but heat stroke occurs when those mechanisms fail.
Heat stroke can result from untreated heat exhaustion and fluid loss, but it can also occur rapidly due to a combination of extreme heat and exertion. A fully-hydrated track athlete can still experience heat stroke if they’re pushing themselves at a meet and the heat index is 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Very high body temperature (104 to 106 degrees); skin will feel very hot to the touch
- Very dry or very sweaty skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid pulse and breathing
- Confusion or altered mental state
- Loss of consciousness
If you see someone experiencing symptoms of heat stroke, quick treatment is essential. You should immediately call 911 and remove them from the heat. Cool the person however you can: remove their outer layers of clothing, spray or sponge the person with water, place them in a tub of cool water or in a cool shower, or put ice packs or cold towels on them. Do not leave the person alone until emergency medical personnel arrive.
How to Prevent Heat Illnesses
All of those heat advisories you see are a sign that you need to be mindful about spending time outside in the heat. While heat illnesses can occur even when there isn’t a heat advisory in place, a heat advisory is an important reminder about the dangers of the heat.
Whenever a heat advisory is in place, try to avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day. Do your yard work or go for your run in the cooler morning or evening hours, and try to spend time in the shade whenever possible. But if you can’t avoid being outside in the heat, you need to have a plan.
If you must be in the heat, it’s essential to stay cool and hydrated. If you’re planning to exercise in the heat, don’t overdo it - especially if you’re not used to the heat. Always start slow, listen to your body, and stop if you begin to feel nauseated, dizzy, or weak. Take frequent breaks from the heat, and don’t go out in the heat alone. Remember that even if you’re not exercising, the heat can be dangerous.
But the most important thing you can do while in the heat is to stay hydrated.
How to Stay Hydrated in the Heat
To stay hydrated in the heat, you need far more than the recommended 64 ounces of water a day. While many people struggle to drink that much water on normal days, you have to be especially proactive about your water intake on hot days, even if you’re not exercising.
To truly stay hydrated, you need to drink 16 to 32 ounces of water every hour while you are outside. It’s better to spread that amount out over the hour rather than drink it all at once; this allows your body to better absorb the water you’re taking in. Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks or alcohol, since these drinks can actually contribute to dehydration.
You also need to replace lost electrolytes in the heat. Electrolytes are often found in food, but if you’re not taking in much food, you need to replace those salts through what you drink. Electrolytes can be found in sports drinks or powders that you can add to your water. Make sure that whatever you choose is low in sugar.
And although you need to pay special attention to staying hydrated when it’s hot outside, dehydration is dangerous and can happen at any time of the year. You’re at risk of dehydration anytime you lose fluids, whether it’s from vomiting or diarrhea, fever, or intense activity. (You may even be surprised to learn that you can become dehydrated when it’s very cold outside!)
Signs of dehydration include:
- Increased thirst
- Inability to urinate, sweat, or form tears (or dark-colored urine
- Dry mouth
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Muscle cramps
Regardless of the cause, you should always take dehydration seriously. Be proactive about staying hydrated when you’re sick or exercising, and get medical care if you notice any signs of dehydration.
If you’re experiencing severe dehydration or heat stroke, call 911 or go immediately to the emergency room. These are true medical emergencies, and speedy treatment can save your life.
But if you’re experiencing early stages of dehydration or heat exhaustion, you should get checked out by an urgent care doctor. Your urgent care doctor can monitor your condition and provide IV fluids.
Don’t ignore the signs of heat illnesses or dehydration. Visit a MedHelp urgent care clinic near you for rehydration and monitoring from our physicians.