Stay Healthy in the Heat

With temperatures on the rise, it seems that cases of heatstroke are gaining in numbers as well. Before you plan to spend the weekend outdoors and in the sun, make sure you know what to look for when it comes to this potentially dangerous condition.

According to the Mayo Clinic, heatstroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures, or by doing physical activities in hot weather.

Once the body reaches temperatures such as 104 degrees or higher, two symptoms will start to develop.

First, you may experience heat cramps. If you don't cool down, heat exhaustion may set in, causing heavy sweating nausea, lightheadedness and feeling faint.

If you begin to notice any of these signs, take action to lower your body temperature and prevent your condition from progressing to heatstroke.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms:

Get to a shady or air-conditioned place. Remaining in the heat will worsen your condition. If you don't have air conditioning at home, go someplace that is air-conditioned, such as the mall, movie theatre or public library.

Cool off with damp sheets and a fan. If you're with someone who's experiencing heat-related symptoms, cool the person by covering him or her with damp sheets, spraying with cool water or direct air onto the person with a fan.

Take a cool shower or bath. If you're outdoors and nowhere near shelter, soaking in a cool pond or stream also can help bring your temperature down.

Rehydrate. Keep in mind that the symptoms of heat-related illnesses are caused not only when you become dehydrated but also when you lose salt through sweating. Some sports drinks will replenish both water and salt. The amount you'll need to drink to rehydrate varies from person to person, so sip slowly and call your doctor if you're concerned. And, if you're on a low-sodium diet, be sure to check with your doctor before having drinks with a high salt content.

Don't drink beverages with alcohol to rehydrate. These drinks may interfere with your body's ability to control your temperature.

Heatstroke is predictable and preventable. Follow these simple steps to prevent it in the first place:

Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Wearing excess clothing or clothing that fits tightly won't allow your body to cool properly.

Wear light-colored clothing if you're in the sun. Dark clothing absorbs heat. Light-colored clothing can help keep you cool by reflecting the sun's rays.

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 children or anyone else 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 (more than 6.7 C) in just 10 minutes. It's not safe to leave a person inside a parked car in hot weather for any period of time, even if the windows are cracked or the car is in the 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, follow the same precautions 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. Taking breaks and replenishing your fluids during that time will help your body regulate your temperature.

Get acclimatized. Limit the amount you spend working or exercising in the heat until you're conditioned to it. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness, including heatstroke. 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 physical condition that increases your risk of heat-related problems, avoid the heat and act quickly if you notice symptoms of overheating. If you participate in a strenuous sporting event or activity in hot weather, make sure there are medical services at the event in case a heat emergency arises.

In a small window of hours, untreated heatstroke can cause damage to your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. These injuries can get worse the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or even death.

If you or someone you are with begins to display the symptoms of heatstroke, move them to a cool, shaded area and call emergency services.

For more information on heatstroke, its symptoms and prevention, check out the Mayo Clinic website.

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