As the outside temperature and humidity rise, so do the risks of heat-related illnesses. These conditions limit your body's ability to cool itself and can cause severe, even life-threatening illnesses. Did you know that infants and children up to 4 years old, people over 65 and those who are overweight have a greater risk of developing heat illnesses? If you have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes or kidney disease or take certain medications, you might be at greater risk of heat illnesses.
Heat stroke, which occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature, can cause death or permanent disability if prompt emergency treatment isn't provided. Symptoms include a temperature above 103 degrees, lack of sweating, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness. If you see someone having problems with the heat, get them to a cool, shady area. Spray the person with cool water or use cool compresses. If the person is conscious, give them cool, non-alcoholic beverages to drink. Make sure you get medical help as soon as possible.
How can you beat the summer heat? Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine. Drink lots of fluids. Clear, caffeine-free fluids such as water and sugar-free lemonade are recommended. If you are exercising outside, drink 8 to 10 ounces of water every 15 minutes. You can prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages and eating high-water content foods such as fruits and vegetables.
How can you tell if you're getting enough to drink on these hot summer days? The best indicator is the color of your urine. Light-colored or clear urine shows that you are well-hydrated.
Find an air-conditioned spot during the middle of the day such as a department store, movie theatre or public library. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Did you know that an electric fan doesn't prevent heat-related illnesses if the temperature is in the high 90s? If you don't have air conditioning, take cool baths or showers, or better yet, find an air-conditioned place to rest for a few hours.
The best defense against heat-related illness is prevention. If it is hot out there today, find ways to stay cool and stay hydrated.
Holly Mlodzinski is a registered dietitian and health promotions coordinator at Hilton Head Hospital.