Heat cramps are an early warning sign that a person is spending too much time in the heat. Hot weather can quickly cause people to get seriously ill before they realize what is happening. You can get sick from the heat when you sweat a lot but don’t drink enough fluids to replace the water that escaped from your body through sweat. Even more dangerous are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke is serious enough to cause death.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include clammy skin (covered with cold, sticky moisture), headache, dizziness, extreme fatigue, and nausea. The remedy is basically the same as cramps: Get the person out of the heat and into the shade, or even better, an air-conditioned room. Then loosen or remove as much clothing as possible, apply cold compresses, have the person drink cool water, and, if handy, aim a fan at the victim. Even if the person feels better after doing these things, it’s important to take it easy for the rest of the day.
Heat stroke is a severe emergency, and occurs when a person ignores the earlier symptoms. The person will have hot, dry skin that has stopped sweating, rapid pulse, rapid and shallow breathing, and may lose consciousness. Heat stroke may cause the victim to vomit as well. If this happens, don’t allow any intake of fluids and lay the person on his or her side. Call an ambulance immediately in all cases of heat stroke. Conscious victims may refuse water because heat stroke causes them to become confused and disoriented. While you are waiting for the ambulance, cool the person by placing cold packs on wrists, ankles, groin, armpits, and neck.
Why Do Heat Illnesses Occur?
As your body releases sweat onto your skin, the water evaporates into the hot air. The evaporation is what cools the skin and body. This chain of events is good for you, unless you sweat a lot and then don’t replace all that water by drinking fluids. Drinking lots of water is best. This is called “hydrating” your body. Hydrating means making sure you have enough water in your body.
On a normal day, you should drink six to eight glasses of water, 8 ounces each. But when it’s hot outside, that isn’t enough. In fact, you can’t even rely on your body’s feelings of thirst to guide you. Based on thirst alone, you would probably replace only 50 percent of the fluids lost. Because thirst doesn’t always signal us to drink enough to replace all the water lost through sweating, you have to drink water even when you are not thirsty.
How Much Is Enough?
But how much water do you need to drink to prevent serious health problems like heat exhaustion? That depends on your activities. If you’re participating in a sport, you’ll sweat more-so you need to drink more. Sports medicine experts recommend that you drink extra water two hours before a game, then 15 minutes before. Drink more every half hour during and after the game. You should prepare ahead of time by filling an insulated cooler with water and taking it with you.
It’s too hot to play outdoor sports or do outdoor work or exercises if the temperature is above 90, or the temperature is over 70 and the humidity is over 65. Keep in mind that some heavy sports safety equipment, like a baseball catcher’s gear, may make you feel too hot. The solution is to call it quits for the day. Don’t play without the safety equipment.
For all other summer activities, a good rule of thumb is to drink four to eight ounces every half hour to replace the fluids lost by sweating. It’s always a good idea to bring the water with you, in case a cool drink isn’t available when you need it.
Avoiding Heat Illnesses
It’s easy to avoid getting sick from the heat if you just take a few precautions. Drinking enough water is the most important, but there are other steps to take, too.
* Try to do sports or other strenuous (energetic) activity only in the cool morning or evening hours.
* Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing, preferably cotton.
* Wear a hat to keep your head cool and shield your eyes from the sun.
* Keep your hair cut short, or pull it into a pony tail if it’s long.
* Take cool showers.
* Eat ice pops, ice cream, and fix yourself snacks of juicy fresh fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, and strawberries.
* Most important of all: Drink lots of water. With all that summer sweating, remember to keep drinking, even if you aren’t thirsty.