David B. Reath, MD
Knoxville, TN (865) 450-9253
HKB Knoxville Staff

Prevent Heatstroke: 4 Ways to Stay Safe This Summer

It is probably no surprise to you, but we are in the midst of a heat wave, along with much of our country’s mid-section. And, it looks like it’s going to be here to stay.  If you’re like me, you want to continue with your normal activities, like exercise– heat or no heat.  And, you would probably like to adopt the “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” type attitude.  But, when it’s this hot (and this humid) that may not work out so well. So knowing what to do to avoid heat issues, and how to treat them if they are coming on, can save you a lot of grief.  So, here’s what you need to know:

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.
Once it gets hot, the humidity plays a critical role in how our bodies cool themselves. At the usual summer temperatures, our bodies are cooled almost exclusively by evaporative heat loss. That is, as we sweat and the sweat evaporates, our bodies are cooled. However when the humidity is high, evaporation does not take place effectively and our bodies can not cool themselves as well. Since East Tennessee tends to be very humid in the summer, we all must be aware that our bodies need some help in staying cool.

It’ll never happen to me!
If we are otherwise quite healthy, there are some factors that place us at higher risk for having problems in the heat. Patients recovering from any surgery, including plastic surgery, should stay out of the heat whenever possible. The older we get, the greater our risk can be. Also if we are overweight, we will have more difficulty. Medical conditions can place us at increased risk, specifically pregnancy, high blood pressure and heart disease. Also medications such as diuretics, beta blockers and antihistamines increase the danger. Perhaps the greatest threat comes from alcohol consumption. This dehydrates us and interferes with the bodies’ ability to regulate temperature.  And if you are not accustomed to working or exercising in the heat, be careful.

The bottom line though is this: it can happen to you, even if you’re in great shape.

An ounce of prevention.
The best way to beat the heat is to be aware of the problem and take preventative measures.

    • Limit alcohol consumption not only while you are outside in the heat, but also the night before.

    • Stay well hydrated. You should continuously be drinking water or mild salty beverages like sports drinks (GatorAde, PowerAde, etc.) You should not take salt tablets unless prescribed by your doctor.  If you’re going for a run, make your run a loop so that you can pass by a place where you can have water to drink during your run.

    • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothes that breathe well.

    • Know your limits.  Don’t do your strongest work out in the hottest conditions. I am a rower, and if I am rowing when it’s hot, I work on technique and not on doing sprints for speed.

If you feel the heat.
If you begin to feel the effects of heat exhaustion, you may experience fatigue, weakness, headaches, dizziness, nausea, irritability, and muscle cramps. Of, you may just not feel well, as if you are coming down with the flu. If this happens, get out of the sun, lie down, and drink cool liquids. You may want to put cold wet towels on your neck or other areas of body. If you do not begin to feel better, seek medical attention — even if this means calling a rescue squad.

But best of all, try to avoid this. Be smart about what you do, and when you are doing it. Always stay hydrated, even if you are playing in the sun. It’s easy to get dehydrated just hanging by the pool.   And, know your limits so that you can stop, before they stop you.

Have a great summer!

David B.

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