Arizonans are no strangers to hot temperatures, but unfortunately, during our summers it’s often safer and more comfortable to remain indoors than brave the triple digit heat. If you do decide to partake in outdoor activities this summer, being aware of the signs of heat-related illness can help keep your family healthy and safe.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to overheating and occurs when the body can’t keep itself cool. Babies, the elderly and those with heart diseases and other illnesses are the most at risk and should take extra precautions when heading outdoors. Symptoms to look out for include muscle cramps, heavy sweating, pale or cold skin, weakness, dizziness and confusion, headache, nausea or vomiting, and a fast heartbeat. In the early stages of heat exhaustion, you should be able to relieve symptoms by moving to a cool place, resting and hydrating. Sports drinks are especially efficient at hydrating due to their sodium content.
Warning Signs to Look Out For
If symptoms do not improve by moving to a cool place and hydrating, you may need to seek medical attention to deliver fluids through an IV to hydrate the body as quickly as possible. If medical attention is not sought in a timely manner, heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke, a much more dangerous ailment that is responsible for 400 deaths each year. A temperature of 104 or higher, seizures or fainting, shock, or stopped breathing are indications that medical attention is needed immediately.
There are fortunately several precautions you can take to prevent heat-related illnesses. Many people don’t realize it’s important to drink water continuously throughout the day, not just during the hours you are outside. Feeling thirsty often doesn’t occur until you’re already dehydrated, so you should be drinking plenty of water before you even feel the need to quench your thirst. Drinks containing caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the body and should be avoided if you plan to spend time in the sun. In addition to staying hydrated, you should wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing to help you stay cool on hot days, and consider wearing a hat. Exercising outdoors during the hottest months can be extremely dangerous, though rescheduling your workouts to the early morning when temperatures are lower can help. Sunscreen is a must as sunburns hinder your body’s ability to reduce heat. Be sure to wear an SPF of at least 15 and reapply frequently when out in the sun for multiple hours.
Preventing heat exhaustion is doable if you take the necessary precautions. With weather as hot as Arizona’s, staying hydrated is of the utmost importance in the summer months. Teach your kids to constantly drink water, make sure they are aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion and know how to communicate if they don’t feel well. Knowing how to stay healthy and when to seek medical attention can make the difference between a fun day in the sun and a trip to the emergency room.
Written by: Jaime Serrano
Jaime Serrano is a board-certified Adult Health Nurse Practitioner who is part of the primary care team at Arrowhead Health Centers.