Heat Illnesses and How to Avoid Them This Summer

Summer is in full effect in the Midwest. Many activities move outdoors this time of year – from barbecues and baseball games to days spent at the pool. And for those with outdoor jobs, the workdays can seem even more intense in the heat.

Whether you’re spending your days outside recreationally or for your job, being aware of the severity of the summer heat is important. In this article, we cover several heat-related illnesses to be mindful of this summer.

Heat stroke is one of the most serious heat-related illnesses. This medical emergency can cause permanent disability or death if it is not treated early enough. Heat stroke occurs when a person’s body can no longer regulate its temperature through sweating, and it usually happens after prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. Symptoms include confusion and slurred speech, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

Heat exhaustion is the result of excessive loss of water and electrolytes through excessive sweating. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are similar to those of heat stroke, so it should be treated similarly.

Rhabdomyolysis, commonly referred to as rhabdo, is a serious medical condition that causes the breakdown and death of muscle tissue. When muscle tissue breaks down, it releases proteins and electrolytes into the bloodstream, which can then lead to heart and kidney damage. People suffering from rhabdo can experience muscle pain and weakness and will usually have dark, brown-colored urine. Seek medical attention immediately if you think you are experiencing symptoms of rhabdo.

Heat cramps are caused by a body’s loss of water and electrolytes and are painful. Heat cramps are also a symptom of more serious conditions listed above. If you are experiencing heat cramps, rest, drink water, monitor symptoms, and contact your primary care provider if other symptoms develop.

Dehydration is frequently the root cause of heat-related illnesses but can be a serious medical condition on its own. Symptoms can include dry skin, fatigue, and confusion. If you are experiencing dehydration, drink water, rest, monitor symptoms, and contact your primary care provider if other symptoms develop.

While anyone can develop these conditions, there are factors that may increase a person’s risk of heat-related illness. Young children and the elderly are more susceptible, as are people with certain health conditions, such as chronic heart disease. Certain medications make people more susceptible, such as beta-blockers, diuretics, and antidepressants. Drinking alcohol also increases a person’s risk.

Taking precautions before spending time outdoors can minimize the risk of heat-related illnesses. The most important is staying hydrated. Water is the best option. Sports drinks are good options, but many contain high amounts of sugar and should be consumed in moderation. Drinks with high amounts of caffeine and drinks with alcohol should be limited or avoided if you plan to be in the heat for extended periods of time.

Wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing will help, as will wearing a hat with a wide brim or spending time under an umbrella or an awning. If possible, take regular breaks in an air-conditioned or climate-controlled space out of the sun.

Knowing the risks of heat-related illness is important before spending time outdoors this summer. Be sure to take the appropriate precautions before making your summer plans.

If you have any questions or concerns about heat-related illness, or any health condition, contact your primary care provider.