Keeping Cool in the Heat

Experts caution that everyone should take steps to prevent heat-related problems

SATURDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- As summer approaches and temperatures rise, so does the risk of heat-related illnesses, experts say.

"We are not invincible when it comes to exercise in the heat," said Brendon McDermott, an athletic trainer with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and member of the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) Medical and Science Advisory Board, in a news release from the National Athletic Trainers Association. "In extreme cases, if medical care is not provided in a timely manner, long-term damage and sometimes death can occur."

Among the most common heat-related illnesses:

  • Exertional heat stroke, a serious and potentially fatal illness that can occur when core body temperature tops 104-105F. Symptoms include seizures and confusion, nausea, vomiting, headache and dizziness. Get immediate medical attention if heat stroke is suspected.
  • Heat exhaustion, which is less serious than heat stroke but still something to take seriously. This results from the loss of fluid or sodium. Symptoms include loss of coordination, dizziness or fainting, headache, nausea and persistent muscle cramps. A person with heat exhaustion should be quickly moved to a cool, shady place. They should also rest with their feet elevated and drink plenty of water.
  • Heat cramps, characterized by intense pain and persistent muscle contractions that continue during and after exercise. Heat cramps are treated by drinking water, resting, stretching and eating foods high in sodium.

To prevent and treat these illnesses before they become serious or fatal, KSI and the National Athletic Trainers' Association recommends that people who are going to exert themselves in the heat:

  • Allow time for heat acclimatization. Increases in the duration or intensity of physical activity should be gradual. This process can take up to 14 days to complete.
  • Take breaks. Be sure to include adequate rest between exercise regimens.
  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of water or sports drinks before, during and after outdoor activities. Urine that is darker in color is a key warning sign of dehydration.
  • Time it right. Whenever possible, exercise during the early morning or late evening when the temperatures are cooler.
  • Know when to quit. Fever or other pre-existing illnesses can make a person more susceptible to heat related conditions.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers additional tips for preventing heat-related illnesses.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: National Athletic Trainers Association, news release, May 9, 2011

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