The summer months in North America bring some of the nicest conditions you can find anywhere. Long sunny days, pleasantly cool nights, all make for a great day in the outdoors. All that time in the heat and sun can have an affect on you, simply hiking or paddling in a canoe can become a life or death situation if you are not prepared for it.
Heat related illnesses can sneak up on you with little warning even on days when it doesn’t seem all that hot; here are some things to watch out for when spending time in the outdoors on a hot and sunny day.
Your body cools itself by sweating, and as the perspiration appears on your skin it evaporates in air that blows by making you cooler. On really hot and humid days or during times of extreme exertion your body can suffer from four main illnesses if it is not given the chance to cool down. These are: Dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and most severely heat stroke.
Dehydration occurs when your body is low on water. Water makes up around 75% of your body and without it bad things start to happen; such as the inability to concentrate, thirst, headaches, and most importantly your body will loose the ability to cool itself by perspiration. Keep drinking water during any activity whether you are running around outdoors or sitting at your desk.
Heat cramps are muscle contractions usually in the calves, thighs, and abdominal muscles. These cramps can be quite painful. The muscles involved may feel firm to the touch and your body temperature may be normal or slightly elevated.
Heat exhaustion happens when your body temperature rises up to 104 °F (40 °C). Symptoms of heat exhaustion are dizziness, headache, weakness, fainting, nausea, vomiting, and cold clammy skin. It is very important to cool down once these symptoms start because if left untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, and then you are really in trouble.
Heat stroke is a life threatening condition that happens when your body temperature exceeds 104 °F (40 °C). If left untreated heat stroke will lead to brain damage, organ failure, and death. Some symptoms (along with those of heat exhaustion) are skin that feels hot but is not sweating, and confusion or irritability that may occur in the patient. Be prepared to seek immediate medical attention if any of the symptoms listed above are present in the patient.
There are not a lot of ways to cool a person down once they are over-heated. The most important is to consume lots of cool water before any of the symptoms occur. If a person starts to experience any of the symptoms have them stop what they are doing and sit down in a cool area, ideally indoors in an air-conditioned space or in the shade if they are outdoors. Have someone remain with the person to monitor them for consciousness and their general condition. Give the person lots of cool, but not ice cold water. Drinks such as coffee, alcohol, and those with lots of sugar are hard to digest when you are over-heated and may actually reduce the amount of water that is being absorbed. Smoking can also increase body temperature so avoid this as well until body temperature returns to normal.
Remove any excess clothing such as shirts, coat, hard hats, back packs, or sports equipment and wipe the patient’s body down with cool (not ice cold) water and fan them to help evaporate the moisture from their skin. It is best not to try to cool down too fast by taking icy baths or giving the patient ice cold water as the shock can be very hard on the person’s system which has already been weakened. If the patient does not feel cooler within 30 minutes then it is time to seek medical attention. If the over-heated person is showing symptoms of heat stroke then seek help immediately. Make sure the patient has returned to a normal body temperature before exerting themselves again.
If you must work or travel on hot days be prepared by watching the temperature and avoid activity during the hottest part of the day (mid morning to late afternoon). Drink lots of fluids, if you start to feel thirsty then you are already experiencing dehydration. During times of extreme exertion you may want to consider sports drinks which contain sodium, potassium and other minerals which can be depleted during activity in hot weather.
Wear loose lightweight and light colored clothing. This will help the body cool itself and prevent your clothing from absorbing heat. A lightweight and light colored wide brimmed hat will help keep the sun off as well.
Sun tan lotion is one of the most important items to carry with you when outdoors. An SPF 30 or higher will help keep you cool by limiting how much heat energy is absorbed by your skin. Apply it to any part of your skin which is exposed including your face, nose, ears, arms, throat and neck, and legs and feet. Sunscreen can also prevent you from getting a severe burn on days when the temperatures aren’t all that high. Remember to reapply the sunscreen every few hours or after playing in the surf.
Check with your doctor if you are taking any medications before heading out on a hot day and know your limits, if you think it will be too hot then stay indoors or make it a rest day if you are hiking or travelling outdoors. For those of you travelling with children or pets, remember that temperatures inside vehicles can heat up severely in just a few minutes, so never leave animals or children in a parked car, boat or RV.
High temperatures can take their toll on just about anyone weather you are a pro athlete or seasoned outdoors person. Senior citizens and children are also very susceptible to high temperature conditions, so don’t forget to check in on them on hot days too.
Copyright 2016 Mike Wilson