Preventing Heat-related Illness: When the Heat is Too Hot to Handle

Kids and the elderly are at highest risk for heat related illnesses.

How hot is it? It’s so hot that your antiperspirant is on strike. Your clothes stick to you. The air conditioner and water cooler are your best friends.

With hot summer weather, you probably feel lethargic and sweaty, but still cope. Yet, when a heat wave hits, it’s harder to cool off.

Overheating is a serious danger, and soaring temperatures take their toll.

Who’s at risk?
Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness. Young and old are at the greatest risk. This includes infants and children up to 4 years of age and people 65 years of age and older. Also at risk are those who are overweight, and people who are ill or on certain medications.

The bottom line is this: Prolonged exposure to high temperatures or problems with your your body’s cooling system raises your risk for a heat-related illness such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

How our natural cooling system works
Normally, heat escapes through the skin as sweat is evaporated (perspiration). This helps cool the skin, and more importantly, the body core. But in humid weather, sweating doesn’t work as well. The air around you is already warm and heavy with humidity. It can’t absorb extra heat and sweat from your body. So your body warms up. When your body can’t compensate for the heat, you may suffer a heat-related illness.

Tips to stay cool in extreme heat

  • Take it easy. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • Stay indoors. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of direct sunlight. Try to go to a public building with air conditioning each day for several hours. Open windows at night.
  • Dress light and loose. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect the sun’s energy. Natural fibers like cotton may help you feel more comfortable.
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of water regularly and often, even if you do not feel thirsty. Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies. Avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine and sugar. Make sure your pets get plenty of fresh water as well.
  • Eat light but often. Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
  • Check the heat index chart. Knowing the temperature alone is not enough. The heat index gives you the temperature of what it “feels like” by taking into account both temperature and humidity.
  • Ease into it. If you are not accustomed to warm weather, let your body acclimatize to the new environment over several days.
  • Take a cool bath or shower. This will help cool your body.

 

 

© UnitedHealthcare

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