Staying Cool Under Pressure: How to Keep Your Family Safe from Heat Illness

It’s family vacation season and you’re preparing for your upcoming trip. What’s one thing that can be commonly overlooked — and ruin your vacation in an instant?

The heat.

Heat illness can turn a nice, sunny day into a dangerous situation if you aren’t careful. In fact, heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the U.S.

Normally, your body cools itself off through sweat. But extreme heat — especially when paired with humidity — can make sweating alone ineffective at keeping you cool. As a result, your body temperature may become dangerously high. This can lead to heat illness, such as heat stroke.

As the temperature rises, so does your risk for heat illness. Generally speaking, there isn’t a definite temperature cutoff to determine when your body may react to heat and experience heat illness — but it’s recommended to start taking preventative measures against heat illness once it hits 91 degrees outside.

Here’s how to keep you and your loved ones safe from the heat this summer — and all year round.

What Exactly Is Heat Illness?

1. Heat Rash

Heat rash is when your skin becomes irritated from sweating too much. This heat illness is more common in younger children.

The rash develops as clusters of small, red blisters, usually found in the skin creases near the neck, chest, groin, or elbow. These blisters may look like pimples.

What Can You Do If You Have Heat Rash?

If you develop a heat rash, get out of the heat and relocate to a cool, dry place. Keep the inflamed area of your skin dry. You can use baby powder to help alleviate the discomfort.

2. Heat Cramps

Heat cramps can develop during intense physical activity. They feel like muscle pains or spasms, usually in your arms, legs, or abdomen.

What Can You Do If You Have Heat Cramps?

If you experience heat cramps, relocate to a cool place where you can rest and rehydrate your body. Drinking water or sports drinks with electrolytes is the best way to rehydrate.

Electrolytes are minerals — such as sodium, calcium, and potassium — that help balance your body’s water levels. Drinking beverages with electrolytes can help replenish the water your body has lost through excessive sweating.

Gentle massaging of the sore areas may relieve pain. Wait for the cramps to stop completely before returning to your previous activity.

In some cases, heat cramps require emergency medical care right away, including:

  • Cramping in people who are on a low sodium diet
  • Cramping in people who have heart problems
  • Cramping that lasts for an hour or more

3. Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can develop when your body is exposed to high temperatures over a few days without staying hydrated.

Signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Rapid, faint pulse
  • Heavy sweating
  • Skin that is cold, pale, and clammy
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

What Can You Do If You Have Heat Exhaustion?

If you’re experiencing heat exhaustion:

  • Rest in a cool place
  • Change out of tight clothing
  • Take a cool bath or cover your body in cool, wet cloths
  • Take sips of water: because heat exhaustion can cause nausea, sipping is best

Heat exhaustion can be serious and require emergency medical care if you:

  • Are vomiting
  • Have symptoms that get worse
  • Experience symptoms for over an hour

4. Heat Syncope

Heat syncope is when high temperatures cause you to feel dizzy or faint (syncope) after standing for a long period of time or standing up too quickly after lying down or sitting.

What Can You Do If You Have Heat Syncope?

If you’re experiencing heat syncope, rest in a cool place and slowly drink plenty of fluids.

5. Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a potentially life-threatening illness that can cause your body temperature to rise above 103 degrees. Because it is very dangerous, heat stroke requires immediate emergency medical care.

Heat stroke can develop if heat exhaustion is left untreated. A high body temperature — above 103 degrees — is a key sign that heat exhaustion has turned into heat stroke.

Signs of heat stroke include:

  • Body temperature of 103 degrees or higher
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Skin that is dry, hot to the touch, and visibly red
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

What Can You Do If You Have Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is a medical emergency and should be taken seriously. Call 9-1-1 right away.

If possible:

  • Relocate out of the heat
  • Apply cool cloths or take a cool bath
  • DO NOT attempt to drink anything

Who’s at Risk For Heat Illness?

Some people are at higher risk for heat illness than others, including:

  • Infants and toddlers up to 4 years old
  • Adults 65 years or older
  • People who are overweight
  • People with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or high blood pressure
  • People who are on certain prescribed medications, such as those used to treat depression, insomnia, or poor circulation

If you or your loved ones are at risk, make it a priority to educate each other on the preventative steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing heat illness.

So, How Can You Prevent Heat Illness?

Staying hydrated and keeping cool are key steps to prevent heat illness — but they are just two steps out of many you can take to stay safe in the heat.

Tips for Preventing Heat Illness for the Entire Family

  • Wear clothing that is lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your head
  • Reapply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more throughout the day
  • Drink plenty of water or an electrolyte-enhanced drink: stay well hydrated before you go out and while you are out, rather than waiting until you feel thirsty during heat exposure
  • Avoid or cut back on caffeinated or alcoholic beverages
  • Check the weather forecast each day, keeping an eye on the heat index
  • Plan your activities outside of the hottest hours of the day, which are typically between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Take frequent breaks in cool, shady areas
  • Consult with your health care provider about how chronic health conditions or prescription medications you or a loved one have may affect the risk of heat illness

Have more questions about staying safe from heat illness? Call Stormont Vail Health at (785) 270-4440 to schedule an appointment with one of our primary care providers.

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