beat the heat

Here at Enhanced Medical we’ve been enjoying these first few official days of summer, and hope you have been as well! However, as temperatures increase so do the dangers posed by summer’s heat.  Heat related illnesses primarily affect children and people over the age of 50, but can also affect younger people, especially those who exercise outdoors in the heat.

When you are exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods of time your body’s core temperature begins to rise.   Thermoreceptors throughout your body then send signals to your hypothalamus, the portion of your brain most responsible for temperature regulation.  The brain first responds to these stimuli by increasing blood flow to the skin, which leads to the activation of your body’s 2.6 million sweat glands.  As sweat evaporates it cools your body.  However, if sweating is insufficient to bring your core temperature back down to normal your body will react by decreasing its own heat production by slowing vital systems.  This is when heat exposure becomes dangerous.  Your body is really one giant, extremely complicated chemical reaction, a reaction which proceeds best at 98.6° fahrenheit (37° celsius).  At higher temperatures these minute chemical reactions, and the enzymes which facilitate them, can no longer operate as efficiently.  When these reactions break down so does health.  Indeed, every summer heat related illness kills, on average, more than 300 people in the United States

The Effects of Dehydration

When your body gets overheated one of the first clinical problems that can arise is dehydration.  Higher temperatures lead to sweating, and when you sweat excessively without replacing those lost fluids quickly enough the overall water content in your body decreases.  This leads to a drop in blood pressure, which your body compensates for by increasing your heart rate.  Symptoms of this change can include weakness, dizziness, and heart palpitations.  Other signs of dehydration are increased thirst, dry mouth, and darker urine.  To treat dehydration you can sip cool water, or suck on ice chips or popsicles made of fruit juice or sports drinks.  Also, move to a cooler, shadier environment.

Even if you are not spending large amounts of time outdoors, summer heat can still pose a health risk.  The combined effects of a short trip outside to water the plants, walking from your car to the grocery store, and stopping to chat with a neighbor when you go out to get your mail can accumulate to mildly dehydrate you, especially if you do not adjust your water consumption.  When even 1-2% dehydrated, before your body even sets off a thirst response, studies have shown that we experience greater fatigue and less ability to concentrate.  Heat and dehydration can affect the health of all of us, not just those spending lots of time out in the summer sun.

 The Dangers of Heat Stroke  

If sweating fails to sufficiently cool your body, and your temperature continues to rise, you risk the dangers of heat stroke.    When heat stroke occurs the body’s temperature is so high that vital processes begin to shut down.  Signs of heat stroke include lack of sweating, severe headache, weakness, dizziness, red skin, nausea, difficulty breathing, fainting, seizures, and confusion.  Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency and persons suspected to be suffering from it should immediately seek hospital treatment.

Some Easy Tips to Beat the Heat:

Despite the severity of the dangers posed by overexposure to summer’s heat, there are easy ways to minimize your risk:

  • Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing.

  • Wear a wide brimmed hat to shade your face.

  • Be sure to stay properly hydrated by drinking more than your usual 64 ounces of water per day.  However, do not drink sugary drinks as they will actually increase dehydration.

  • Avoid getting sunburned as it negatively affects the body’s ability to cool itself.

  • When you are outdoors in the sun take frequent breaks in the shade or in air-conditioned places.

  • Avoid exercising outdoors, especially during the hottest part of the day, but if you do decide to venture out make sure to drink 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes, even if you are not thirsty.

  • Avoid or at least limit alcohol and caffeine consumption as they are both diuretics and will cause your body to lose even more water.

  • Be mindful of the hydration and temperature needs of those around you, especially children, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions, who are most at risk for heat related health problems.

Enhanced Medical Care wishes you a fun and safe summer! Contact us if you would like to learn more about our concierge medical practice or if you have any questions.

To your health!