Summer is officially here on Monday, and with it comes long days, lots of sun, hot weather and increased risk for activity-related heat injury. The kids are out of school and we’re all more active. Whether your favorite activity is walking in the neighborhood, hiking in the woods, running a marathon or fishing on the lake, a little advance planning can go a long way toward making your adventure safe and trouble-free.
1. Acclimatize gradually to the heat. Let your body adapt to warmer temperatures by gradually increasing activity. Kids involved in youth sports? Make sure coaches follow appropriate acclimatization guidelines such as those from the National Athletic Training Association.
2. Take a break! Adjust activity level and take frequent rest breaks during hot weather activities.
3. Hydrate early, often and after. Adequate hydration ensures your body’s ability to regulate temperature through sweating. Thirst is a poor indicator of adequate hydration, so be sure to stop for regular drinks whether or not you are thirsty.
4. Take precautions during high-intensity activities. You should drink only as much fluid as you lose due to sweating during a high-intensity sport — usually no more than 34 ounces — or about 1 liter — of water an hour during extended exercise, otherwise you risk losing too much salt in the body.
5. Consider drinking sports beverages during demanding activities. Ask your doctor about replacing water with sports beverages that contain electrolytes when participating in endurance events such as marathons, triathlons and other demanding activities.
6. Take the sunscreen! Sunburn can slow your ability to shed heat, is painful and can lead to serious illness in severe cases. The long-term effects of sunburn have also been linked to skin cancer. A little prevention goes a long way, so make sure to apply adequate amounts of sunscreen early and often. Also, cover especially susceptible areas with clothing and wear a hat to protect your face and sunglasses to protect your eyes.
7. Check out the weather forecast and be prepared. The National Weather Service’s Heat Index chart takes into account heat and humidity and can help you decide whether you should modify your outdoor activities to avoid heat-related injuries. Learn more about prevention during heat waves (PDF). Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s "Tips for Preventing Heat Illness."
8. Know the risk factors for heat-related injury. Children and the elderly are more susceptible to heat-related injury. Certain common medications, such as diuretics or amphetamines, may also increase the risk for heat injury. Other risk factors include obesity, pre-existing medical conditions and poor conditioning.
9. Learn the warning signs. Behavioral signs include irritability, inattention, stupor, lethargy and fatigue. Physical symptoms — from mild to severe — include thirst, headache, dizziness, profuse sweating, rapid heart rate, complete cessation of sweating, pallor, vomiting and loss of consciousness.
10. Severe heat injury is a medical emergency. Review first aid procedures for heat injuries before heading out in hot weather. Always start by getting the victim to a cooler place.
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