Heat Illness Tips: When It's Hot, Make Sure You're Not

As the heat wave in western states continues, doctors and emergency personnel worry that rising temperatures could put an increasing number of lives at risk. Here's some tips to enjoy the warm weather while still staying safe:

Drink plenty of fluids, no matter how active you are. Staying hydrated is important, and waiting until you're thirsty may mean your body is already getting low on fluids.

Avoid drinks that contain alcohol, caffeine or lots of sugar. Though they may seem like the perfect refreshment, these can actually cause your body to become more dehydrated.

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. Doing so will help air circulate around your body, keeping you cooler.

If possible, limit your time outdoors to early morning and late afternoon. The sun is less intense and temperatures are generally cooler during these times of the day.

Take breaks in air-conditioned areas. If your house doesn't have air conditioning, spend time indoors in public places, such as the library or a shopping mall. Even a few hours in an air-conditioned area can help refresh your body before you head back into the heat.

Postpone exercise until cooler times of the day. If you must exercise in the heat, be sure to drink two to four glasses of water, juice or a sports drink each hour to replenish your body.

Take steps to prevent sunburn. Protect your skin from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and applying "broad-spectrum" sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15.

Keep your eyes safe. Wearing sunglasses to block excessive light and UV rays.

Avoid hot foods and large meals. What you eat can increase your body heat.

Your body is always trying to strike a balance between how much heat it generates and how much it gives off. Follow these suggestions to help you regulate your brain's internal thermostat.

Know the Signs of Heat Illness

Even if you take the above suggestions to heart, however, it's still possible for your body to overheat, bringing about what is known medically as hyperthermia. Young children and older adults may be the most susceptible to this illness.

Hyperthermia may begin with cramps, swelling in the feet or legs, or dizziness. As your body becomes overwhelmed by the heat, it can't regulate your temperature as well. You may feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, nauseated, uncoordinated and disoriented, and you may find that you are sweating more than normal. This is known as heat exhaustion.

If left untreated, heat exhaustion may progress to heat stroke, which can be life threatening. Symptoms of heat stroke include:

Fainting

Mental confusion

Significant changes in your heart rate

Inability to sweat

A body temperature above 104 degrees

At the first signs of hyperthermia, you should rest in a cool place, raise your legs to improve blood flow, and drink plenty of fluids.

If you are experiencing heat exhaustion, be sure to go into an air-conditioned area, rest and cool down by drinking plenty of fluids and taking a cold shower, if necessary.

If your illness progresses to heat stroke, it is absolutely necessary to get out of the heat and seek the help of a doctor. Getting medical attention immediately might save your life.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control Prevention Emergency Preparedness and Response (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp), National Institute on Aging (http://www.niapublications.org/agepages/hyperther.asp)

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