Preventing Heat Related Illness

When it comes to protecting your health, there is much to consider. A big topic that can often be overlooked is the temperature increase in the hot and humid Midwestern climate! Many times during the summer, you will hear the local news asks us to check in on your neighbors who are very young or old during the hot climates. That is because that population is most at risk for dehydration and heat related illness during high heat. Studies show that conditions such as heat related illness, electrolyte imbalances, and dehydration rise significantly in the summer because people are unaware of the life-threatening risk of prolonged activities in the heat.

But… doesn’t my body protect me from the heat?

Our bodies are meant to keep us cool at a temperature around 98.6 F through many complex mechanisms. The most efficient way for our bodies to cool down is through sweat evaporating heat off our bodies. A major issue is when humidity is high (<50%), lots of moisture in the air, our sweat evaporates slowly and cannot cool us down as well. If our temperature rises to 103 F and above, our bodies have issues functioning. The most effective ways to cool the body quickly is ice baths, cold towels, or anything cool that can be placed on the head, neck, groin, and in the armpits.

What are common heat related illnesses?

Many heat related illnesses arise from dehydration and poor acclimatization, such as exercise associated heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Exercise heat cramps and heat exhaustion share many symptoms with dehydration including thirst, irritability, headache, weakness, nausea/vomiting, cramps, and dizziness. These can be fixed through resting/cooling down, replenishing fluids, and electrolytes. Heat stroke is life threatening in which the core body temperature reaches 104 of with symptoms of aggression, confusion, loss of consciousness, and rapid pulse. Signs of heat stroke require emergency medical care (calling 911) and rapid cooling of the body.

Avoiding Heat Related Illness

    • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Wearing excess clothing or clothing that fits tightly won’t allow your body to cool properly.
    • Protect against sunburn. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself, so protect yourself outdoors with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or sweating.
    • Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature.
    • Take extra precautions with certain medications. Be on the lookout for heat-related problems if you take medications that can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.
    • Never leave anyone in a parked car. This is a common cause of heat-related deaths in children. When parked in the sun, the temperature in your car can rise 20 degrees F in 10 minutes. It’s not safe to leave someone in a parked car in warm or hot weather, even if the windows are cracked or the car is in shade. When your car is parked, keep it locked to prevent a child from getting inside.
    • Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day. If you can’t avoid strenuous activity in hot weather, drink fluids and rest frequently in a cool spot. Try to schedule exercise or physical labor for cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or evening.
    • Get acclimated. Limit time spent working or exercising in heat until you’re conditioned to it. Those who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust to hot weather.
    • Be cautious if you’re at increased risk. If you take medications or have a condition that increases your risk of heat-related problems, such as a history of previous heat illness, avoid the heat and act quickly if you notice symptoms of overheating. When you participate in a strenuous sporting event or activity in hot weather, make sure there are medical services available in case of a heat emergency.

If you are in need of pre or post surgical care, general re-conditioning, or help returning to sport/daily activities in the wake of an injury, schedule your appointment at one of our 12 Greater St. Louis area locations.

athletic trainer at liberty high school in wentzville missouri discusses heat related illness

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