Avoid Overheating this Summer

posted by Colette Rossiter on Thursday, June 16, 2022

The “dog days” of summer seem to have arrived early this year!  According to the calendar, summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st.  Yet here were are, battling the heat and humidity of a typical Iowa day in July.

Unfortunately, summer heat claims lives each year.  Despite the fact that all heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, each year an average of about 658 people succumb to extreme heat, according to the CDC.

People suffer from heat-related illness when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded.  The body normally cools itself by sweating.  However, high air temperature over an extended period (especially when accompanied by high humidity) can overwhelm the body’s ability to cool itself.  When that occurs, the following conditions may develop:

Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity.  This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture.  The low salt level in the muscles causes painful cramps.  Resting in a cool area with fluid replacement and eating salty food often eases the cramps.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat.  Signs include elevated body temperature, faintness, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, ashen appearance, cold, clammy skin and nausea.  If heat exhaustion is suspected, move to a cool area immediately and lie down.  Loosen or remove clothing.  Apply cold compresses.  Drink cool water or an electrolyte-containing sports beverage.  Though less dangerous than heatstroke, heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heatstroke.

Heatstroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. This is an emergency!  The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.  The key indication of heatstroke is a fever of 105 F. with hot, dry skin.  Other signs of heatstroke include rapid heartbeat, rapid and shallow breathing, confusion, and changes in blood pressure. This is a life-threatening emergency and medical help should be sought immediately!  Move the affected person to a cool area and use whatever method you can to cool the person rapidly (i.e. cool bath, misting with water in front of a fan, cold compresses, etc.)

Prevention is key.  Here are some tips to get you through this period of hot weather:

  • Dress for the heat.  Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.  Wear a broad-brimmed hat or carry an umbrella. 
  • Drink plenty of water. Carry water or juice along with you: drink frequently, even if you don’t feel thirsty.  Avoid alcoholic beverages and caffeine.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often.  Avoid high-protein meals that increase your metabolic heat.
  • Don’t use salt tablets unless instructed to do so by a physician.
  • Take it easy.  Avoid strenuous activities or try to do them during the pre-dawn or early morning hours – the coolest part of the day.
  • Stay indoors in areas cooled by air-conditioning or fans.
  • Check on elderly neighbors who may not have air conditioning. Older people are more prone to heat stress and also more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes their normal body responses to heat.

Staying cool and making simple changes in your fluid intake, activities, and clothing during hot weather can help you remain safe and healthy. 

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About The Author

Colette Rossiter

Colette Rossiter, serves as manager for Spencer Hospital Community Health Services and Clay County Public Health. Colette has enjoyed the variety of responsibilities her nursing career has provided, yet has a passion for public health and safety.