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Tips for Avoiding Heat Illness in the Summer

BY DR. LISA GOODMAN, DC, CCSP, CACCP

Show of hands, how many readers are sending their kids to summer day camps that take place mainly outside? If your kids are at Avid4 Adventure, PASS Camp at DU, YMCA Camps, Soccer camps, horseback riding, overnight camp, etc they are likely enjoying much of their day in the heat of the summer! During the last week of June we saw temperatures reach 100 degrees! Summer heat is a real and scary cause of severe, sometimes life-threatening sickness in kids and adults. There are two types of heat illness to know about, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.

Heat Exhaustion occurs after exposure to high temperatures and is to be taken very seriously. Without early intervention it can progress quickly and can be caused by two things:

Dehydration – inadequate water intake

Salt Depletion – hyponatremia

Heat Exhaustion can progress to a more serious illness, Heat Stroke. Heat stroke is a risk after prolonged exposure to heat with exercise and dehydration. Heat Stroke is incredibly serious and can lead to organ shut down, brain damage and death. Heat Stroke is a medical emergency.

Risk Factors for Heat Illness

Heat Illness is often tied to the heat index which is a measure of temperature as well as humidity. If you see a heat index of 90 or above, be extremely cautious while exercising outside. Environments which multiply the heat index include standing in full sun, asphalt, concrete and artificial turf. Children under age 4 and adults over 65 have an increased risk of heat illness. Anyone who has a coexisting medical condition may also be at risk. Exercise in extreme heat increases your risk of heat illness. In addition, a case of heat illness makes one more likely to be sensitive to heat illness in the future.

Pay attention to signs and symptoms of heat Illness. These are listed somewhat in order of severity and you always want to be concerned if multiple symptoms are present.

Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Headache

Dizziness

Fatigue

Muscle Cramping

Excessive Thirst

Fainting

Dark Urine (a late sign of dehydration)

Nausea, Vomiting

Diarrhea

Additional signs of Heat Stroke – a medical emergency

Loss of Consciousness

Core body temperature over 104

Mental Confusion or disorientation

Seizures

Hot, Dry Skin (no sweating)

Heat Exhaustion Early Intervention

If you, your child, or anyone around is experiencing any of these symptoms – especially in combination – the key is to cool the body’s temperature! The best way to do this is to move indoors into air conditioning right away. A cool shower or bath is a great option as well. If this isn’t possible, find shade or soak towels in ice to pack around your body (especially in the underarms and groin area).

Emergency care may be necessary if the symptomatic person is continuing to worsen or if symptoms don’t start to subside within 15-20 minutes. Any symptoms of Heat Stroke warrant an immediate call to 911.

Preventing Heat Illness

The best defense is a good offense. So rather than become a victim of heat illness, take these into consideration when the heat index is high or if you know you or your child is prone to overheating.

• Wear a hat

• Wear light colored clothing

• Wear sunscreen

• Drink lots of fluids. Strongly recommend fluids with some electrolytes (ie. coconut water, fruit juice or sports drink).

• Time your fluids. Drink fluids a few hours before exercising outside, while exercising and for an hour after!

• Avoid fluids with caffeine or alcohol

• Avoid direct sunlight, asphalt or artificial turf when the heat index is high

• Find fun in the shade or indoors on hot days

• If possible, avoid exercise on hot days

Remember to educate your kids about preventing heat illness while spending a hot summer day outside as well as the warning signs of heat illness. They may save a friend or themselves from this very serious condition.

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