Beat the heat: Protect yourself from heat illness

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Summer is the season for working and playing outdoors in Michigan. With the onset of summer, it is also the time to emphasize the importance of preventing and treating heat-related illness.

Heat-related illness and deaths are preventable, yet more than 600 people die from extreme heat every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The common denominators of heat illness prevention are water, rest and shade. Getting plenty of all three when outdoors is the best way to beat the heat and stay out of trouble.

The main things affecting your body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather are:

High humidity. When the humidity is high, sweat won’t evaporate quickly. This keeps your body from releasing heat as fast as it may need to.

Personal factors. Age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn and prescription drug and alcohol use all can play a role in whether a person can cool off enough in very hot weather. Those who are at highest risk include people 65 and older, children younger than two and people with chronic diseases or mental illness.

If you’re going to be active during an extreme heat event, take these protective actions to prevent illness or death:

  • Stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking water steadily; don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Muscle cramping may be an early sign of heat-related illness.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which cause us to lose water more rapidly.
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade or indoors in an air-conditioned space. Do not rely on a fan as your main cooling device during an extreme heat event.
  • Wear loose fitting, lightly colored and lightweight clothes.
  • Minimize use of heat-generating appliances like stoves or ovens.
  • Do not exercise outdoors. If you must exercise outdoors, only exercise in the early morning hours,
    before 8 a.m.
  • Take cool showers or baths to cool down.

It is important to seek medical attention right away if you have a body temperature of 103°F or higher, a strong, fast pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion or loss of consciousness. These symptoms may be a sign of heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.

Think you or a loved one might be experiencing the effects of heat-related illness? Call 911 for all life-threatening conditions, go directly to the nearest emergency room or check in online to the McLaren Lapeer emergency department at mclaren.org/lapeerER.