Summer is almost here, and that means the really hot weather is just around the corner. Even though the hot season is literally an annual event, many people drop their guard and put themselves at great risk.
No one is immune to these forces. In late April a border patrol agent suffered either heat stroke or heat exhaustion while patrolling in the Otay Mountain Wilderness area in California.
Understand that the temperature doesn’t have to be above 100° to be dangerous. In fact, many people succumb to heat-related problems with temps in the 80s and 90s. That is especially true on humid days.
Nor do you have to be engaged in strenuous activity. Walking, gardening, working on your car and other simple tasks can stress the body if you’re not prepared for the heat. Treat hot weather as potentially harmful at all times. There’s no need to get wigged out about this. Just prepare properly.
Before we discuss some precautionary measures, let’s review the heat-related ailments. Keep in mind that a person won’t necessarily go from a mild to severe condition. It’s possible to quickly go into heat stroke; you don’t have to experience heat exhaustion first.
Heat cramps – Caused by loss of electrolytes because you’ve been sweating so much. Your brain can’t communicate with your muscles, so they start to spasm and cramp up. Heat cramps and a headache are usually the first signs of trouble. Watch for those.
These will ease over time if you consume electrolytes (potassium or sodium). Those important minerals are found in many exercise drinks as well as energy bars and other foods. More on this topic later.
Heat exhaustion – You’ve sweated so much your blood level has dropped to the point it cannot reach all parts of your body. You literally go into a form of shock.
Symptoms include a flushed face, headache, severe sweating, muscle cramps, and elevated pulse and breathing. Also, the person’s urine will be a deep yellow. Urine is nearly clear if the person is consuming an adequate amount of liquids. (Assuming no other health problems.)
Move the person into a cooler or shaded environment. Rest and rehydration are critical to reverse the effects of heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke – The most severe condition that can occur. The core body temperature is at least 105°. Brain damage is a distinct possibility. It’s imperative that you get the person to the hospital.
Symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, disorientation or confusion, seizure, and a rapid heart rate. Try to cool the body first. Some people recommend immersing the victim in a pool of water. I don’t like that. I think the drastic temperature change could cause the person to go into shock. Plus, you may not be near a body of water.
Get the person into a shaded area. Even a vehicle will do in a pinch. Strip him or her down to the undies, and spray water all over the body. Start fanning to get air moving around the person. The evaporating water will help cool the person.
Important precautionary steps
Before you set out, make sure you know the area well and its current weather conditions. You may learn, for example, that it is brutally hot in Death Valley or another desert area. Reconsider your plans, and pick a different spot. Never head for an area without first checking the weather conditions and forecast.
Don’t assume that you’ll be able to survive on your vehicle’s air conditioning. If it conks out and you haven’t prepared properly, you’re in deep trouble. It’s important that you bring along the appropriate supplies, just in case you encounter an emergency.
Pack water, food, clothing, and medical/first aid supplies. As for water, a rule of thumb is you’ll need at least one gallon per person per day. If you have room for more, great.
Consume liquid and food at least one-half hour before starting your trip or project. This is to begin storing liquid and electrolytes in anticipation of the demand that will occur. Bananas are a great source of potassium, but most foods supply the needed electrolytes.
During your time in the heat, drink and snack regularly. The body can absorb at most one liter of water each hour, but can expel two or more liters in that same amount of time. I try to drink at least one 16 oz. bottle of liquid (roughly one liter) every half hour.
To help maintain that regimen, pack a variety of liquids. Of course you will have water, but pack some tea, lemonade, and other healthful drinks. I especially like packets of Crystal Light®, but nearly any brand will do. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they draw water out of your system.
Once you’re out of the heat, continue hydration to allow your body to catch up. Your body is still processing water and minerals, and you can experience some mild symptoms.
Regardless of where you live or where you intend to visit, remember the basics for dealing with a sunny environment. Sunscreen is a must. It should be rated a minimum of SPF 30. Your sunglasses should be coated to filter 100% of both UVA and UVB. Pack a large or floppy hat so your neck and ears are covered, and your shirts should be long-sleeved to protect your arms.
Summertime means outdoor fun. But it also is a challenging time for the body. Take the necessary precautions to help ensure you and your friends don’t succumb to the heat.