July and August in Wisconsin are notorious for having extreme temperatures and humidity. While this may be a plus for beach-goers and boaters, the heat can pose a huge threat to one’s health. Too much time in the heat and not enough protective factors against it can lead to a very serious heat-related illness. Some of these illnesses include dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. This risk tends to increase for older age groups and can be a very real threat. In order to stay safe this summer, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms, as well as the protective factors, of heat-related illnesses.

Heat-related Illnesses

The most common heat-related illness is dehydration. In fact, some research indicates that almost 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated to some extent. Though this can occur in any temperature, high heat and humidity can make dehydration much more dangerous and can even lead to hospitalization in some circumstances.

Recognizing some of the early signs of dehydration is one of the only ways to combat it. One of the body’s most natural ways of showing that it is dehydrated is through the feeling of thirst. Along with this, some other signs of dehydration are dark-colored urine, headaches, loss of concentration, or dry skin. If you notice any of these signs, that most likely indicates you are dehydrated and should act accordingly.

Like dehydration, heat exhaustion is another common heat-related illness that plagues many throughout the hot summer months. Heat exhaustion is the result of an excess loss of water and salt that leads to lack of body temperature regulation and overall overheating. This illness can come from exposure to high heat and humidity, or too much intense physical activity.

Some of the major symptoms associated with heat exhaustion include fainting, dizziness, rapid pulse, muscle cramps, and nausea. If this type of illness goes untreated for too long, it could lead to the even more severe heat stroke.

Perhaps the most severe of the heat-related illnesses, heat stroke can occur if the body reaches temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or more. This illness requires immediate attention – without this, heat stroke can cause damage to your organs. In extreme cases, heat stroke has led to health complications and even death.

Some signs to look for when dealing with heat stroke are altered mental state, racing heart rate, nausea and vomiting, and extreme body temperatures. Heat stroke is very dangerous and can be difficult to spot. If you think that someone is experiencing heat stroke, it is important to take action instantly and respond accordingly.

What can you do?

We’ve identified some signs and symptoms of various heat-related illnesses, but how can we protect against them? By following a simple list of protective factors during the hot summer months, most of these illnesses can be completely avoided.

  1. The first step in warding off heat-related illnesses is drinking plenty of fluids. When it is hot and humid, the body tends to lose liquids at a rapid pace. In order to combat this, many doctors recommend drinking at least 100 ounces of water per day. This number should be adjusted to include even more water when you are doing physical activity or if the heat index reaches extremely high levels. Staying hydrated works to balance internal body temperatures and keep organs running adequately, especially in the hot summer months
  1. Another tip for dealing with the heat is to spend as much time indoors or in shaded areas as possible. In extreme temperatures, one of the easiest ways to stay cool is by staying indoors. Find an air conditioned place that can keep you cool and out of the sun. If this is not a possibility, it is important that you find a shaded area to retreat to. Outdoor heat is propelled by direct sun exposure. If you are outside, find a shaded area to cool down in to avoid any heat-related illnesses.
  1. If you start experiencing any symptoms associated with heat exhaustion or stroke, cover yourself in cool, wet cloths. Doing this helps to regulate your body temperature and provide your body a way to cool down without going into shock. This tip can be very important in the case of a heat-related illness.
  1. If outdoors, make sure that you wear loose, lightweight, light colored clothing. This tip works in two ways: 1) it protects your body from direct sun exposure that can raise body temperatures, and 2) the light colored clothing reflects sun rays away so you don’t become as hot. Wearing this type of clothing is essential when spending long periods of time outside and can help you to stay cool throughout the day.

The dangers of heat exposure become extremely relevant during the summer months. Without realizing it, getting dehydrated or overheated can lead to serious consequences and pose a huge risk to one’s health. By understanding the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and what you can do to combat it, you’ll be much better equipped to protect yourself and stay cool this summer.





This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Madison Senior Center and a link back to the original post.