So, what did you do this weekend? We melted in an East Coast heat wave. The only thing we could do was sit and think about how hot we were. Or talk about how hot we were. And the blistering summer heat isn’t just draining, it also can be dangerous. Heat stroke, heat rash, and heat exhaustion are all threats that high summer temps pose.
Heat rash is the least serious heat-induced condition. It’s what happens when your sweat ducts get blocked and your perspiration stays trapped under your skin. If you have itchy red bumps on your skin, probably in an area covered by clothing or where the skin folds, you could have heat rash. You also might notice decreased sweat in that area. Cool your skin with a cool washcloth and move out of the heat. Heat rash will probably go away on its own, but if it starts to puss or hangs around for more than a few days, see your doctor.
Heat cramps can occur when you’re doing physical activity in extreme heat without drinking enough fluids – you can feel involuntary muscle spasms or cramps. As soon as you feel cramps, stop what you’re doing. Move out of the heat as much as you can, and massage the area. Drink a clear juice or an electrolyte-filled sports drink, and practice simple range of motion exercises. And don’t re-start your activity until several hours after the cramps go away.
If you’re physically active in high heat and humidity, you also can show signs of heat exhaustion. This is a sign that your body is overheating, and you’ll probably have goosebump-filled cool and moist skin, faintness, dizziness, weakness, rapid pulse, muscle cramps, nausea, or a headache. As soon as you feel one of these symptoms coming on, stop what you’re doing and move to a cool, shady area. Drink cool water, rest, and call your doctor if you don’t feel better in an hour.
The most serious side effect of extreme heat is heat stroke. It’s what happens if you don’t tend to the symptoms of heat exhaustion, and it can be life-threatening. It occurs when your body has a dangerous increase in temperature, and your body’s natural defenses to deal with heat aren’t working properly. The first sign of heat stroke is usually fainting, but could also be rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, a change in blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, or a lack of sweating. If you think someone is suffering heat stroke, move them out of the sun and into an air-conditioned space, call 911, have the person drink a cool, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated drink, and cool the person by spraying them with cool water or covering them with cool, damp sheets.
We’d like to avoid all of the above this summer (and you, too.) So here are some tips for staying cool:
- Move more slowly. Your body will take some time to adapt to the heat.
- Drink enough fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks – they’ll just dehydrate you.
- Don’t exercise outdoors in the midday sun. Change your schedule so you can exercise either outdoors or indoors in the morning or evening.
- Wear a hat. Put on a light-colored cotton hat to best avoid the sun.
- Apply sunscreen. Aside from its relation to skin cancer, a sunburn decreases your body’s ability to cool itself.
- Wear cotton. Cotton clothing is cooler than synthetic.
- Keep your moisturizing lotion in the fridge. It’ll cool you down.
- Don’t drink caffeine and alcohol. They’ll dehydrate you.
- Eat more small meals. The bigger the meal, the more metabolic heat your body produces to digest it.