Summer has barely started and the temperatures are already in the 90's. It's hard to imagine what we will experience later in the summer. Although there are many ways to enjoy the sun (see the article on Fun things to do this summer) there are certain precautions that must also be taken to avoid serious illness.
Although muscle cramps are usually associated with a mineral imbalance or lack of salt, heat cramps are specifically linked to heat and dehydration. They are muscle contractions usually focused in the muscles in the back of the calves and are very strong and can cause immense pain.
Heat cramps can be avoided by drinking plenty of fluids, especially water. In most cases, heat cramps will improve with re-hydration, a cool environment and rest.
Once again excessive heat and lack of liquid is the cause of this illness. In addition to feeling tired and, as the name implies, exhausted, there are much more intense symptoms. These include feeling dizzy, turning pale, nausea and vomiting.
You may feel that your temperature has gone up (which in fact it has, moderately) but you do not actually have a fever. The increased temperature is due to the excessive heat.
You can avoid heat exhaustion by avoiding high temperatures and by drinking plenty of fluids, again, especially water.
If you have the symptoms try rest and water and put ice packs in strategic places on the body (pulse points, forehead). Sitting in front of a fan would also be helpful.
However, if the symptoms are severe, or if vomiting prevents you from drinking, you will probably need intravenous fluids, and therefore you should get to an Emergency Room quickly.
The most severe of the heat-related illnesses, heat stroke should be taken very seriously. Although associated with people working or exercising in extreme temperatures, it can also affect people who are just sitting or resting, if the temperature is hot enough.
The most obvious sign of heat stroke is the person is not sweating! They are hot and their skin is flushed, but they do not sweat. (The exception to this is the athlete who is working out in extreme temperatures - he or she may still be sweating from the vigorous exercise.)
Heat stroke will result in very high body temperatures (105-106 ). The heat stroke victim may also be delirious or even unconscious. Some heat stroke victims also have seizures.
Someone suffering from heatstroke needs to have their body temperature reduced quickly and will need IV fluids to re-hydrate. This means a very quick trip to the hospital. It may also mean that they will have to stay in the hospital, since so many bodily functions can be adversely affected by such high temperatures.
A little common sense will go a long way in preventing heat related illness. It is important that you sweat - it is the body's way of getting rid of extra heat. As blood flows to your skin (a normal body function), excess heat from the center of your body is forced to the skin and removed by sweating.
When you dehydrate you won't sweat as much for obvious reasons - there are less liquids in your system. But even more importantly, your body will try to keep the blood from flowing to your skin because it is trying to maintain a proper blood pressure in the center of your body.
When it is humid, it is harder for your sweat to evaporate, which means your body cannot get rid of extra heat as well when it's muggy as it can when it's hot, but dry.
Water is by far the best fluid to drink when you are sweating. "Sport drinks" such as Gatorade® are fine, too, but water is still the best. Although your sweat seems to be "salty" you really loose very little salt when you are sweating, so replacing it with salt pills may be hazardous. Do not take salt tablets without consulting a physician.
The clothing you wear makes a difference, too: the less clothing you have on, and the lighter that clothing is, the easier you can cool off. Wearing light colored fabrics is not just summer-style; it actually makes a difference in your body temperature.
The same applies to heavy fabrics or fabrics that cover a good part of your body. The more uncovered space, the easier it is for your body to sweat, and the sweat to evaporate, which will keep you cooler.
It should go without saying that exercise should be kept to a minimum in these extreme temperatures. Whether it is bike riding, walking, working in the garden, or any other outdoor activity it should be done in moderation with cooling off periods spaced throughout the activity.
And always, always, always keep a water bottle handy and full. You can't drink too much water, but too little could have devastating effects.
With just a little common sense and a lot of water you should have a wonderful, healthy, summer. Enjoy!