Engaging in physical activity outdoors goes hand in hand with sunny, warm weather. However, being physical active in a hot environment can diminish the body’s ability to cool itself, which in turn leads to heat-related illnesses. Usually we associate these types of illnesses with babies and the elderly. However, even fit athletes can succumb to a heat-related illness. Our bodies sweat to cool off. As we sweat, we lose much needed fluids. If we do not replace these fluids, it can lead to dehydration, which makes us susceptible to heat injury. Our bodies normally adjust to the heat, but prolonged activity in hot temperatures and high humidity can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.
Heat cramps generally occur first. These cramps indicate overexertion of muscles and include involuntary spasms of large muscles. Treating heat cramps when they occur can reduce the chance of developing a more serious ailment. If a person complains of heat cramps, have him or her stop all activity and move to a cool place to rest. Lightly stretch the affected muscles. Also, be sure to have the individual replace any fluid loss by drinking water or sports drinks. Usually, cramping is the only symptom of heat cramps. If other symptoms occur, then the heat-related problem has most likely progressed to heat exhaustion.
Ignoring heat cramps can cause the heat-related condition to progress to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion occurs when sweating can no longer effectively cool the body down. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include sweating profusely, fatigue, headache, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, as well as muscle spasms. Often heat exhaustion happens because an individual has become dehydrated and has not replaced the fluids he or she has lost via sweat. The two most effective treatments of heat exhaustion involve cooling the person down and making sure he or she rehydrates. A person needs to stop all activity if he or she starts having symptoms of heat exhaustion. The individual needs to be placed in a cool environment. Removing any tight clothing and misting the skin with cool water can help. Make sure the person drinks water or sports drinks, in order to rehydrate. If the individual’s symptoms do not improve, then consult a medical professional.
The most serious heat-related illness is heat stroke, also known as sunstroke, and it should be considered a medical emergency. Heat stroke has the potential to damage the brain or other vital organs. In some instances, it can result in death. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures in combination with dehydration can lead to heat stroke. The body’s core temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit and complications involving the central nervous system occur. Fainting is often one of the first physical symptoms of heat stroke, but other symptoms include nausea, seizure, shallow breathing, and lack of sweat. Heat stroke may also result in behavioral changes such as disorientation, confusion, or hallucinations. Injuries from heatstroke get worse with time, so it is crucial to get medical treatment as soon as possible in order to avoid serious complications.
Our bodies give us plenty of warnings when it comes to heat-related illnesses. The more symptoms we disregard, the more serious the condition gets. If we pay attention to our bodies’ initial signals, we can avoid a serious heat-related illness altogether. Listening to our bodies when it comes to outdoor activities in the summer allows us to have fun and stay healthy at the same time!