Have Fun in the Sun – But Know the Risks
With summer on the horizon, here’s what you need to know about the warning signs related to heat-related illnesses.
If you live in the Miami area, chances are good that you have an affinity for the sun. After all, they don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing. But as most Floridians know, love of the sun is not without its risks. One danger that becomes especially prevalent during the summer months is heat-related illnesses.
“The risks from the heat are greatest among the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions, but everyone needs to take great care in the heat,” says Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, a public health expert at the University of Miami Health System. “The key takeaways are to stay hydrated and to stay out of the direct sun as much as possible.”
Regardless of how young, old or active you are, everyone is at risk as the temperatures start to climb upward toward 100 degrees.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, these are the primary illnesses that can impact you during the warm summer months.
- Small groupings of blisters or pimple-like growths on the skin.
- Usually develop in bodily creases like the chest, neck, elbow or groin.
- Are common where sweat develops or where skin rubs together.
- Involve spasms or pain of the muscles during exertion in the heat.
- Are frequently accompanied by very heavy sweating.
- Extreme sweating, along with cold, clammy or pale skin.
- Muscle cramps.
- Dizziness or headache.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- A rapid heartbeat.
- Possible fainting.
- A precursor to heat stroke.
- The most serious and dangerous heat-related illness.
- Red, hot, dry or damp skin.
- Dizziness, headache or confusion.
- A rapid, strong heartbeat.
- Very high body temperature.
“I tell my patients to be very careful if they or someone they’re around is sweating a lot, has cramps, feels weak or has headaches or confusion,” says Dr. Carrasquillo.
Heat-related illnesses can vary greatly in severity.
Mild issues such as heat rash can be soothed by cleaning and drying the rash, and applying baby powder or other soothing remedies.
For all heat-related issues, the best advice is to cease activity and to move somewhere cool and dry. Putting cool cloths or taking a cool shower or bath can help lower the body temperature and help the person feel better.
For heat exhaustion or heat cramps, drinking water or sports drinks can help regulate the body temperature and bring relief.
Heat stroke is always a medical emergency, so you should call 911 if you or an associate is showing any of the signs, such as fainting, a very hot temperature, vomiting, confusion or other warning signs. While you’re waiting for help, move the person into a cool place and cool them off with cold cloths or a cold bath if possible.
“The main things to do are to stop activity immediately and move the person into a cool place,” says Dr. Carrasquillo. “Have them apply cold cloths or ice packs to them to help them cool down and if they are able to, you can give them cold sports drink”
Preventing heat-related illnesses
Of course, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to heat-related illness. Avoid extreme heat whenever possible. And if you have to go out in the heat, drink plenty of water and avoid strenuous work or exercise. Wear cool, light clothing, stay in the shade when possible and avoid alcohol, which can dry you out. If you start to feel lightheaded, exhausted or sick, cease activity and get someplace cool as soon as possible.
“You don’t have to avoid the outdoors completely, but be intelligent about it,” says Dr. Carrasquillo. “Avoid being outside in the hottest part of the day, or move your workouts indoors if possible.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News blog.