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Summer Series: How To Avoid Heat-Related Illnesses

Seeing as it's nearly summer, I thought you 'outdoorsy' types should know about heat-related illnesses. In an earlier post, I talked about how to recognize and treat heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Now, I will give you a few tips about how to avoid them to begin with.

While anyone can be adversely affected by the heat, some people are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses than others. For instance, overweight people might have problems because their bodies retain more heat than those of a lower weight. Also, people who are on certain medications should talk to their doctors about this because 'heat sensitivity' is not usually on the list of side effects most of us think of. Senior citizens, young children and people with heart disease or high blood pressure may also be particularly susceptible to sickness caused by extreme heat.

Here are some other tips:
  • Don't over-exert yourself. Pace yourself, even if you don't usually need to. In extreme heat, things you normally have no problem with (hiking long distances, biking, etc.) can put more stress on your body than they would normally. This is in addition to heat-related muscle cramps.
  • Stay hydrated on more than just water. I say that because, in addition to water, our bodies lose important minerals and electrolytes when we sweat. Sports drinks are good for this, and some grocery stores carry “replenishing” packets you can put into your water bottle to give it a boost.
  • Wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing.
  • Don't eat heavy, hot meals because they will make your body retain more heat.
  • Stay away from alcohol. Contrary to popular opinion, cold beers don't put water back into your body-in fact, they do the opposite. Alcohol 'dries you out', leaving you more at risk of dehydration than you were before.
  • Plan any outdoor activities for times of the day when it's cooler, usually the morning or evening hours.
  • If you go out in a group, everyone should keep tabs on each other in case someone needs help. This is especially important for people who work outside or are participating in athletics.
  • Spend as much time in air-conditioned buildings as you can. Some cities have 'cooling centers' where people can go to get out of the heat.

Last, but certainly not least-
  • Do not leave children or animals in cars! Have you ever stopped at a store and come back ten minutes later to find that your car feels like a sauna? There's a reason for that. Even if the windows are cracked open, temperatures inside of a car can rise to dangerous levels very quickly, putting anyone inside at risk for heat stroke.

If you think about it, a lot of these are just common sense. Even so, it's not hard for even the most reasonable of us to get caught up in what we're doing and forget to take the proper precautions. If we can keep the risks associated with higher temperatures at bay, a good time can be had by all.

Now you just have to figure out how to keep your kids entertained. Good luck with that!

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