Heat-related Injuries and How to Stay Cool
JULY 06, 2020
Hot weather is here. That means it's the perfect time to go for a swim or relax in the shade. But before lathering on the sunscreen and heading outdoors, it's important to know the signs of heat-related injuries and how to stay cool when the temperatures soar.
Heat exhaustion includes heavy sweating, breathlessness, a fast but weak pulse, headache, dizziness and nausea or vomiting. "Heat exhaustion can happen to anyone overexerting themselves in extreme heat," says BIDMC emergency medicine physician Laura Burke, MD. "If symptoms are severe, call for medical help right away."
Individuals at an increased risk for heat exhaustion include:
- People with heart disease or high blood pressure
- People over age 65
- Infants and children
- People with sunburn, which impairs the cooling mechanism of the skin
Heat exhaustion can escalate to a life-threatening condition called heat stroke. "During heat stroke, the body can no longer cool itself down through sweating, which can result in damage to major organs," Burke says.
Symptoms include hot and dry skin, a fever higher than 102°F, headache, confusion and unconsciousness. "If you see someone suffering from heat stroke, try to cool the person down by getting to shade or into the air conditioning. Apply cool water with wet cloths and call for medical help immediately," Burke says.
Check out these important tips to help you stay cool and healthy in the heat.
Drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol, which can impact your ability to sweat properly, and caffeine, which is a natural diuretic. "Two glasses of water per hour is the general rule in extreme heat," Burke says.
Dress in light-colored, loose-fitted clothing. Breathable clothing allows sweat to evaporate. In the hot sun, cover up with a hat and sunscreen.
Limit outdoor activity. If you plan to exercise outdoors, avoid peak hours when temperatures are highest. "Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body's thermostat will have a chance to recover," Burke says.
Take a cool shower. Another way to cool down quickly is to take a cool shower or bath, or to place a cool washcloth on your forehead.
Read more summer health tips from BIDMC experts.