This guest blog post was written by Jeffrey M. Burnham, MD, FAAFP, CAQSM, Family Medicine/ Sports Medicine at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge.
As summer temperatures rise, so do the risks of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke — conditions that can seriously affect your health and even lead to death.
Here’s the rub: Heat and humidity interfere with your body’s natural cooling process, especially when humidity is above 70% and the temperature is above 70 degrees.
Physical activity in such conditions can be hard on your heart, even for athletes if they haven’t adapted to the heat.
While the heart is delivering blood and oxygen to your working muscles, your body is trying to cool off by sweating. If you sweat too much, you lose fluid. This decreases your total blood volume. That means your heart has to pump even harder to get the smaller volume of blood to your working muscles, skin and other body parts. When you lose too much fluid, your body temperature rises, your nervous system doesn’t work right, and you can suffer brain and heart damage.
So beat the heat with these tips:
Know these symptoms of heat exhaustion.
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, clammy skin
- Dizziness or fainting (syncope)
- Weak and rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Nausea, vomiting or both
Know the symptoms of heat stroke
- Warm, dry skin with no sweating
- Strong and rapid pulse
- Confusion and/or unconsciousness
- High fever
- Throbbing headaches
- Nausea, vomiting or both
If you experience these symptoms, stop what you’re doing and cool down immediately by dousing yourself with cold water. You also may need to get medical attention right away.
Monitor your body fluid level. Each morning, weigh yourself after using the bathroom. If you weigh two pounds less than normal, you're probably dehydrated and may have lost weight as water, not as fat. So drink more water before doing any vigorous physical activity.
Dress for the part. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics such as cotton, or a newer fabric that repels sweat. Add a hat, umbrella and/or sunglasses.
Time it perfectly. Do outdoor activities in the early morning or late evening.
Protect yourself. Before you get started, apply a water-resistant sunscreen with at least SPF 30, and reapply it every two hours.
Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Stay hydrated by drinking a few cups of water before, during and after you exercise. Drink up even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
Take regular breaks. Find shade or a cool place, stop for a few minutes and hydrate before you start again.
Quench your thirst. If you’re thirsty, you may already be dehydrated. Stop and hydrate immediately.
- Talk to your doctor if you’re on certain medications. Medications like beta blockers, ace receptor blockers, ace inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics (which deplete the body of sodium) can exaggerate the body’s response to heat.
What steps will you take to protect yourself from heat exhaustion or heat stroke this summer?
This guest blog post was written by Jeffrey M. Burnham, MD, FAAFP, CAQSM, Family Medicine/ Sports Medicine at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge. Read his full bio.