by Mark Holmes, personal trainer and owner of Health Coaches of Portland, which has been providing Personal Training, Onsite Corporate Health Promotion, Health Screenings, Onsite Health Coaching, Group Exercise Programs, and more for more than a decade.
The recent high temperatures and humidity remind us that not only is summer here, but it’s important not to let extreme temperatures ruin our summertime fun—and certainly not become a life-or-death situation. Knowing how to treat a heat-related illness is just as important as knowing how to prevent such a situation from happening in the first place.
Preventing Heat-Related Illness
- Never leave children or pets in closed vehicles.
- Drink plenty of water. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine.
- Air conditioning provides the safest escape from extreme heat. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, seek out other areas such as malls or movie theaters.
- Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
- Eat small meals of complex carbs, salads, and fruit. Avoid foods high in protein, which can increase metabolic heat.
- Avoid strenuous activity. If unavoidable, do so in the coolest part of the day, which is between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.
- Stay in the shade as much as possible and slow down during the hottest part of the day which is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Watch for these Warning Signs
- Muscular pains and spasms usually involving the abdominals and legs.
- This is an early signal that someone is having difficulty handling the heat.
- Cool, moist, pale, flushed, or red skin
- Heavy sweating
- Dizziness and weakness or exhaustion
- The skin may or may not feel hot
- Body temp will be near normal
Heat Stroke (this is life threatening!)
- Decreased alertness level or complete loss of consciousness
- High body temp (may reach as high as 105 F)
- Skin may be moist or the person may stop sweating resulting in red, hot, and dry skin
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Rapid, shallow breathing
Caring for Heat Emergencies
In a heat-related emergency, we want to cool the body, give fluids, and minimize shock:
Heat Cramps or Heat Exhaustion
- Get the person to a cooler place.
- If the person is awake and fully alert, give him or her one-half glass of water every 15 minutes (don’t let them drink too quickly).
- Remove or loosen tight clothing and wrap the person in wet towels or sheets.
- Call 911 if the person refuses water, vomits, or loses consciousness.
- Call 911.
- Move the person to a cooler place.
- Wrap wet sheets or clothing around the person and fan him or her. If you have ice, wrap in cloth and place on the person’s wrists and ankles, in the person’s armpits, and on the back of the neck to cool the major blood vessels.
- Watch for signals of breathing problems and keep the person lying down.