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Slow Burn: How to Avoid Heat Exhaustion

By Sara Butler

Heat Exhaustion

It seems like every year, summer comes out of nowhere. One week you’re enjoying some solid sweatshirt weather, and the next, it feels like you’re taking a walk on the surface of the sun.

While warmer temperatures are often welcomed by many, it’s important not to let the sudden rise in temperatures catch you off guard. According to the Centers for Disease Control, hundreds of people die of heat-related illness each year, and even more have signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion to contend with.

There are things you can do beyond being aware of how hot the weather will be on any given day where you live. Chiropractors at The Joint Chiropractic want you to enjoy the summer but be safe, so here is what you need to know to help you enjoy the sweltering temps of the second season.

Heat Exhaustion: What Is It?

Heat exhaustion is simply a condition in which your body overheats. It’s one of three different heat-related illnesses. The other two are heat cramps (the mildest) and heat stroke (the most serious). Heat exhaustion is the middle child of heat-related illnesses, but quite serious.

The symptoms and signs of heat exhaustion can gradually come on over time or sneak up on you suddenly, especially during physical activity outside. The possible signs to look for include:

  • Sweating heavily
  • Muscle cramps
  • Feeling faint
  • Moist, cool skin
  • A rapid but weak pulse
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Low blood pressure when standing

If you think you may be falling victim to heat exhaustion, then you should immediately stop what you’re doing and move to a place that is cooler. Have a cool drink -- water or a sports drink is the best option. If your symptoms get worse or don’t improve within about 60 minutes, then you should seek medical help. If you suspect someone you know has heat exhaustion, then be on the lookout for worsening symptoms such as loss of consciousness, confusion, or agitation.

What Causes Heat Exhaustion?

There are a variety of factors that contribute to a condition like heat exhaustion. The heat of your body and the heat of your environment raises your core temperature, and your body loses the ability to regulate it. When you’re active outside in the heat, your body usually sweats to cool itself. But if you do too much and overexert yourself, then your body simply cannot keep up and cool you effectively.

On top of it simply being hot outside and doing too much in the hot weather, other factors can lead to heat exhaustion, such as being dehydrated, dressing in clothes that aren’t appropriate for the weather, and using alcohol.

Those who are very young or elderly, are on certain medications, and those not used to higher temperatures, are at a higher risk for developing this condition.

How to Avoid Heat Exhaustion

Fortunately, it is possible to avoid heat exhaustion by taking a few simple precautions.

Staying hydrated - The best thing you can do when you’re being active outside is to stay hydrated, especially if you’re exercising. Drink fluids regularly before, during, and after your activity.

Acclimating yourself - You can’t go from being an air-conditioned baby to training for an ultra-marathon outside. You can’t even go from staying inside at the office all day to traipsing around a theme park in the intense summer heat. You have to prepare your body for exposure to the heat, so it’s best to gradually expose yourself to outdoor activity in higher temperatures.

Wearing appropriate clothes - Be smart about your clothing choices when you’re outside in the heat. It’s a good idea to wear loose clothing that can breathe and a hat to keep the sun off your head.

Using caution - Don’t go outside in the extreme heat if you’ve been ill since it can impact your body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Ease back into outdoor activities as you recover and always make sure to use the buddy system if you’re going to be outside for the day. Someone else watching your back for signs of heat exhaustion is a good thing.

Planning correctly - Check the weather forecast for the day and prepare accordingly for the heat. Try to go out in the early mornings and evenings when it’s the coolest while avoiding the hottest part of the day in the afternoon.

Hot weather gives you more to worry about than a sunburn. Make sure to stay aware of how the heat impacts you and listen to your body -- it will tell you when you need to take a break and seek out cooler temperatures.

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