RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Most reports of death caused by heat focus on children and the elderly, because they’re more vulnerable to overheating. But healthy adults can fall prey to heat, too, sometimes because we feel immune to damaging effects of heat, or possibly because more of us are so used to an air-conditioned environment that we don’t take the dangers of overheating seriously, suggests a study published a few years ago in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The next time you expect to spend a significant amount of time in outdoor heat, take some or all of these important items with you. Also bring along some common sense, and listen when it tells you to get inside or under some shade trees.
1. Thermometer. There’s a difference between life-threatening heatstroke and milder heat illnesses that don’t require a visit to the emergency room, says Tony Scarzo, MD, emergency medicine physician at St. Louis University School of Medicine. “To really have heatstroke, you have to have a body temperature of 106 degrees F,” he says. He adds that heatstroke is generally accompanied by some kind of neurological dysfunction, such as hallucinations, agitation, confusion, or other type of altered thinking process, and it requires immediate medical attention. In the absence of those alarming symptoms, take your temperature if you’re overwhelmed by heat. Heat exhaustion, which is the condition that precedes heatstroke, comes with heavy sweating, rapid breathing, and a fast, weak pulse. If you or a friend is suffering from heatstroke, get to a hospital or call for emergency assistance. Until help is available, do what it takes to bring the person’s body temp below 101 degrees (see below for ideas).
2. Water bottles or water packs. To avoid heatstroke and other heat illnesses, the best thing you can do is drink lots of water, says Dr. Scarzo. The standard recommendation of 64 ounces per day is good to follow, he says, but if you’re exercising or exerting yourself in the heat, you may need more. And take water breaks. “If you’re working out longer than an hour, drinking 8 ounces of water very hour is quite reasonable,” he says, adding that water-pouch backpacks are perfect for summertime workouts. You can fill them with ice, he says, which keeps you cool and gradually melts so you have plenty of water to keep you hydrated. Also avoid caffeine before going out in the heat, he says. It acts as a diuretic and dehydrates you.
3. Your cellphone. “I always recommend that people work out with a friend or someone that can recognize symptoms of heatstroke,” says Dr. Scarzo. When your friends aren’t available for company, keep your cellphone attached to your hip in case you collapse.
4 & 5. Spray bottles and a battery-powered fan. “The quickest way to cool someone off is to spray water on the person and let a fan blow over them,” he says. Pack spray bottles and small handheld fans in with camping or outdoor gear, or keep some close—perhaps hooked to your belt—while you exercise or work outdoors.
6. Ice packs. Putting bags of ice, or those chemical ice packs, underneath someone’s armpits cools him off quickly, as well, Dr. Scarzo adds. Stash a few in a lunch cooler to take with you. In the event that you need to cool someone off quickly and aren’t near ice or a cooler, you can immerse the person in a lake or creek.
7. Lots of towels. “Heatstroke can affect your heart, nerve, muscles, but the most important thing is that it affects your brain,” says Dr. Scarzo. So don’t just focus below the neck when trying to cool someone off. Soak towels in cold water and place them around the affected person’s head, or use the towels to hold ice packs in place. You can also use your spray bottle to spray the patient’s neck with cool water.