The other day my friend told me of a man she saw running around
a local track during lunchtime. He was wearing a sweat suit zipped
all the way up to his neck.
The other day my friend told me of a man she saw running around a local track during lunchtime. He was wearing a sweat suit zipped all the way up to his neck.

Normally, this would not be something that she noticed, except that the outside temperature was 100 degrees. She then asked me if I would do an article about heat related illnesses.

My last article addressed the issue of keeping hydrated during exercise, so this seemed like the perfect follow-up.

Normally, the body has natural ways of keeping itself cool, such as allowing heat to escape through the skin and evaporating sweat, but sometimes these mechanisms fail.

Outside temperature and humidity play a large role in creating potential for heat injuries/illness.

Lets first talk about heat-related terms, and what they mean.

When you hear a weather forecast, and they refer to a “heat wave,” they mean more than two full days of high heat and high humidity. The “heat index” is the temperature (in Fahrenheit) it really is with the heat and the humidity. In full sunlight, the heat index can increase by 15 degrees.

Heat waves and the heat index can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasm as a result of physical activity, and the most minor of the heat related illnesses. They usually occur in the abdominal region or the legs and are believed to occur from the body’s loss of water and salt from sweating.

Heat exhaustion is the next stage. It usually occurs when people exercise vigorously or work in warm, humid places where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. This fluid loss results in reduced blood flow to the vital organs causing a form of shock.

Indicators of heat exhaustion include cool, damp, pale, flushed or red skin. Other signs include heavy sweating, headache, nausea or throwing up, dizziness and exhaustion. Body temperature stays in the normal range.

Heat stroke (also known as sunstroke) is the most serious heat related illness. It is life threatening. At this point, the body’s temperature control system shuts down. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage or death may result if immediate care is not given.

Signs of heat stroke are red, hot and dry skin; unconsciousness; quick, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature may get extremely high – up to 105 or 106 degrees.

These illnesses are usually not immediate. They go in stages beginning with the least dangerous (heat cramps) to the most severe (heat stroke).

Heat-related illnesses must be considered an emergency and should be given urgent care.

For heat cramps or heat exhaustion, you should get the person to a cooler place and in a comfortable position. If the person is fully conscious, give half a glass of cool water every 15 minutes. He/she should not drink too fast. Drinks with alcohol or caffeine will worsen the situation. Take off or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths.

For heat stroke, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. Move the person to a cooler place, and quickly cool the body by wrapping wet sheets around the body. If you have access to ice packs, wrap them in a cloth and apply them to the person’s ankles and wrists, under the arms and on the neck. This will cool the large blood vessels. Keep an eye on the person for breathing problems.

Prevention, however, is the best medicine. Stop heat related illness before they happen.

Dress appropriately when it’s hot. Wear lightweight, light colored clothing. It also helps to wear a hat or use an umbrella.

Drink, drink, drink. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty, because then you are already dehydrated. Avoid caffeine and alcohol since they dehydrate the body.

Eat small meals more often that are low in protein, which increases metabolic heat.

Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day. Stay indoors and out of the sun.

Take frequent breaks if you are doing physical activity.

Keep in mind that children and elderly people are at a higher risk for heat related illness due to thinner skin. This does not allow them to adjust to the heat as quickly.

Bottom line is to heed the heat. When the mercury rises, use caution when you are exercising or engaged in other outdoor activities.

Karen Frost is the Wellness Director for Gold’s Gym of Morgan Hill. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Physical Education from New York University and is certified by the American Council on Exercise as a Personal Trainer and a Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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