Heat-related illnesses can be quite serious, and they can happen to anyone, no matter their age or health status.
If you’re planning on spending any time outdoors in warm weather, it’s important to know what to look out for and how to protect yourself from these dangerous situations.
Read on to learn more about heat-related illnesses and the steps you can take to help prevent them from happening to you or your loved ones during the summer months.
What Is a Heat Wave?
A heat wave is an excessive period of extremely hot weather.
The term heat wave is also sometimes used as a synonym for heat wave illness when there are multiple days or weeks of high temperatures that could cause health problems for those exposed to it without taking measures to remain cool.
Heat waves are often accompanied by high humidity, which magnifies their effects.
These effects can result in increased cardiovascular mortality, especially among those with pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, and obesity.
Generally speaking, extreme temperatures present greater risk than moderate ones:
To some extent, everyone is at risk from exposure to heat waves.
How do high temperatures affect the body?
High temperatures can cause dehydration and heat exhaustion. Signs of dehydration include dizziness, dry mouth, weakness, headache, cramps or fatigue.
If left untreated it can lead to more serious problems like heat stroke or seizures.
Heat stroke is when your body gets too hot for your internal temperature regulation system to function effectively.
This can result in loss of consciousness, organ failure and even death!
It’s important that you know how hot is too hot and what to do if you start feeling sick while outside.
What is heat-related illness?
Heat-related illness describes a range of health problems that occur due to prolonged exposure to extreme heat.
This can include life-threatening conditions like dehydration, sunstroke, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or even fatal heat stroke.
These are most likely to affect people over 65 years old, babies or young children and pregnant women.
People with heart disease, lung disease or other medical conditions.
People working or exercising in extreme heat, those taking certain medications such as diuretics and those who have consumed alcohol.
What are the types of heat illnesses?
There are many types of heat illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
They can all cause extreme discomfort or even death, stay hydrated to protect yourself from each one.
Below are 6 different kinds of heat illnesses or disorders.
1) Heat stress
Heat stress happens when our bodies are unable to dissipate heat through sweating.
The result is an increase in core body temperature one that occurs too quickly for our bodies to adapt.
The most common form of heat stress is known as heat exhaustion, a condition that results from the loss of water and salt (electrolytes) in perspiration.
Symptoms include nausea, dizziness, headache and tiredness.
If not treated promptly, heat exhaustion can lead to a more serious condition called heat stroke which can prove fatal if left untreated.
Anyone with signs of heat stress should be moved into a cooler environment or given cold compresses on their neck or chest.
Once your body reaches a certain temperature, it becomes incapable of regulating its internal temperature any longer.
This is called a heat stroke, which is life-threatening if left untreated.
If you’re exercising outside during hot summer days, try to avoid strenuous exercise and work in intervals instead.
For example, go for a 15 minute run at 10:00 am, rest until 11:00 am then do another 15-minute run starting at 11:00 am.
Also, consider wearing light clothing so that sweat evaporates and lets your skin breathe more easily.
Wearing sunscreen also helps because it protects you from harmful UV rays while also preventing sunburns that can increase the chances of dehydration as they impair sweating capability.
Another helpful tip is to bring water with you so that when your thirst hits, there will be something available to quench it!
3) Heat syncope
High heat causes blood vessels to dilate, or expand. When that happens, there’s less blood returning to your heart for reoxygenation, which results in a drop in blood pressure.
This is called heat syncope.
It affects older adults who don’t sweat well (because of medications they may be taking) and those with poorly controlled diabetes or high blood pressure.
If you experience dizziness or fainting when you are hot, head to an air-conditioned area immediately.
You can also wear a cooling band around your neck (you can buy one at pharmacies).
If symptoms persist after rehydrating yourself and resting in an air-conditioned area.
It’s best to go see a doctor because you could have more serious health issues at play.
4) Heat exhaustion
It is a condition caused by exposure to high temperatures, resulting in symptoms like heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness and weakness.
If left untreated, heat exhaustion can cause heat stroke.
The key to avoiding heat exhaustion is staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water or other nonalcoholic fluids before you get thirsty.
Don’t overdo it with outside activities. When it’s very hot outside, you may be tempted to try too much at once.
But pushing your body beyond its limits may make symptoms worse. Be sure to pace yourself during exercise or any outdoor activity.
5) Heat rash
You don’t have to be sweating buckets for heat rash to appear.
Most people sweat all over their bodies, so it’s easy to miss a small patch of heat rash on your back or shoulder, especially if you are not looking for it.
Heat rash is most common on your chest, abdomen, upper arms, shoulders and neck.
The symptoms include red bumps (called papules) or scaly skin (plaques), sometimes with pus.
Scratching can make it worse; try dabbing calamine lotion on your rashes to prevent itching.
They may take one to two weeks to disappear but can last as long as six weeks.
If they last more than six weeks or spread, see a doctor.
6) Heat cramps
If you’re working out outside on a hot day, your body loses fluid through sweating.
Dehydration can lead to heat cramps, which are painful muscle spasms usually in your abdomen or legs.
Heat cramps occur when there isn’t enough salt in your system for proper muscle function.
Drinking plenty of water will help prevent heat cramps by replacing electrolytes and preventing dehydration.
If you do get a heat cramp, try getting into a shaded area as soon as possible to cool down.
Some people find that stretching helps ease their pain.
Otherwise, rest until it subsides and drink more fluids.
When you’re outside, it’s easy to become dehydrated from sweating. As your body temperature rises, you may feel dizzy or weak.
Stay hydrated by drinking a beverage with electrolytes every time you feel thirsty.
When possible, stay indoors when it’s hot out. If you can’t avoid being outside in high temperatures for more than a few minutes at a time, take breaks to sit in a shady area and cool off.
Also, remember that alcohol can exacerbate dehydration because it limits the amount of water your body will absorb into your system.
So if you want to celebrate with a cocktail after work, do so during cooler times of day when water is less likely to be an issue.