Beat the Heat

 

Protect Yourself from Overheating While Outdoors

With excessive heat warnings continuing across Chicagoland this week, play it cool this summer by staying well in the hot weather. Overheating isn’t just a matter of discomfort—it can be life threatening.

Whether you work, play or simply relax in the summer heat, it’s important to know how to protect yourself from overheating and to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

“The easiest thing you can do to protect yourself from overheating is wear a hat and drink plenty of fluids,” says Jack Franaszek, MD, FACEP, medical director of the Emergency Department at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. The surface area of the head absorbs heat, so wearing a hat reflects some of the heat away. Drinking fluids—preferably water—keeps the body hydrated.

 

Old and Young at Greatest Risk

Older adults and babies are especially at risk as temperatures rise and humidity climbs. “The heat-handling mechanism in an older person isn’t as functional as in younger adults,” explains Dr. Franaszek. “An elderly person may not even sense that they’re overheating. Of course, babies also can’t sense the heat and certainly don’t understand the dangers.”

 

Beware Rising Temperatures

Your body can overheat very quickly to dangerous levels when the weather warms up. “There’s a continuum of heat-related problems to beware, from heat exhaustion, to heat prostration, to very serious heat stroke,” says Dr. Franaszek. Review the symptoms below to stay safe.

 

Heat Exhaustion

“If you feel faint, weak or start sweating excessively, get out of the heat, drink plenty of fluids and cool down with some ice or air conditioning,” says Dr. Franaszek. Other signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Feeling agitated, confused or anxious
  • Excessive thirst

 

Heat Prostration

“When you get to this point, your body stops sweating because it’s dehydrated,” says Dr. Franaszek. “If you see someone with these symptoms, get them medical help immediately.” Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling very weak
  • Feeling very faint or dizzy
  • Rapid heart beat, shortness of breath
  • High body temperature (104-106º)
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions

 

Heat Stroke

“Heat stroke is a very dangerous, life-threatening condition,” says Dr. Franaszek. “At this point, the body is overwhelmed, profoundly dehydrated and overheating. Organs become damaged or shut down.”

Heat stroke can come on suddenly, without any symptoms of heat exhaustion. If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, get them cooled down and to an emergency room immediately. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion or loss of consciousness
  • Extremely rapid or very slow heartbeat
  • High body temperature (104-106º)
  • Drenching sweat with cold, clammy skin or lack of sweating with hot, flushed skin

“When in doubt, don’t wait to get help for someone,” says Dr. Franaszek. “Reacting quickly can save a life.”