Don’t overdo it. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
There's nothing like spending time in the garden, with the sun shining and birds chirping on a beautiful day. But after a while, high temps can make you feel a little woozy. You might want to keep pushing through, but that dizziness could be a sign of heat exhaustion.
“When the heat makes you feel sick, it’s your body’s attempt to keep itself cool,” says George Avetian, DO, family medicine physician at Geisinger 65 Forward. “Your body temperature rises faster when you’re out in the heat, which could cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke.”
Whether you’re working, gardening, walking or hiking this summer, don’t let the heat get to you. Here’s what you need to know about heat-related illnesses:
Heat stroke vs. heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion can develop over several days if you’re exposed to high temperatures and don’t hydrate properly. While it isn’t typically life-threatening, it should be treated immediately.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
- Excessive thirst
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramping
- Slow/weakened heartbeat
You might also have goosebumps and feel cold — even while you’re still out in the heat.
If you ignore the signs of heat exhaustion, it could progress to heat stroke, which can be life-threatening.
Heat stroke occurs when your body becomes unable to regulate its temperature.
Heat stroke symptoms include:
- Decreased urination
- Not sweating
- Rapid/strong pulse
- Shortness of breath
- Temperature of 104° F or higher
In the most severe cases, heat stroke could make you lose consciousness.
Treating heat stroke and heat exhaustion
If you have symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, stop what you’re doing immediately to cool down and rest. Call 911 if you have signs of heat stroke.
Move to an area with circulating air from a fan or air conditioner. Loosen or take off as much clothing as possible. Cool, wet towels on your forehead, neck, armpits and groin will help lower your body temperature until medical help arrives.
Drink water, fruit juice or a sports drink with electrolytes to hydrate. Try for about 4 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes.
Tips to avoid heat-related illness
The best thing you can do? Protect yourself from the heat in the first place.
If you can, stay in a cool environment. “Places like malls, shopping facilities, public libraries and senior centers typically have air conditioning,” says Dr. Avetian.
It’s not always easy — or fun — to stay inside. Especially if the kids or grandkids are out playing. But saving outdoor activity for the morning or late evening, not during peak heat hours, will lessen your chances of heat-related illness.
Wear loose, lightweight fabrics and light-colored clothing to keep yourself feeling (and looking) cool. When paired with good hydration and eating well-balanced and light meals, you’ll be better equipped to keep ahead of the heat. Just make sure to avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages when it’s hot.
Another piece of advice for the dog days of summer: “If you’re taking regular medications, consult with your physician or pharmacist,” says Dr. Avetian. Why? Because some medications cause an adverse reaction in hot weather, while others may not work as well in the heat.
When you’re inside, close the shades or curtains in your house or apartment, and remember to leave a window open when using a fan. Try not to shower or bathe in water that’s too hot to avoid raising your body temperature.
“Remember that the very young and the elderly are most vulnerable to excessive heat,” says Dr. Avetian. “So check on your friends and neighbors frequently and notify authorities if you’re concerned.” And remember to never leave children, pets or anyone else unattended in closed vehicles.
It’s also a good idea for families to have a support network to check on at-risk members. Being prepared will help you act fast in case of emergency — or avoid heat-related illnesses all together.
Healthy foods and drinks to hydrate you this summer
Rattlesnake bite: What to do if it happens to you