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Beware effects of heat on your body

Beware effects of heat on your body

Heat-related illnesses can be scary, but they can also be prevented – if you know the warning signs, avoid the risks, and take precautions in hot weather.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two types of heat-related illness. Early symptoms of heat exhaustion may include fatigue, headache, heavy sweating, a rapid pulse, dizziness, and muscle cramps. Untreated, heat exhaustion can become stroke, a severe illness in which body temperatures surge to 104 degrees or more in a few minutes.

Although heat stroke is more common in people who exercise in hot and humid weather without drinking enough fluids, it can also happen to people who are not exercising. Heat stroke is particularly dangerous because an extremely high body temperature can cause shock, organ failure, brain damage, and even death, so steps must be taken immediately to cool the body.

Normally, bodies cool themselves by sweating. But sometimes, sweat just isn't enough. When that happens, the internal body temperature of 98.6 degrees begins to rise. Adults over age 65 and children younger than 4, overweight people, and those who have certain health conditions or are taking certain prescription medications can be most at risk for heat-related illness.

How can you protect yourself?

Limit strenuous activity when it's very hot and humid. Wear light-weight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothes. Stay out of the sun – sunburn inhibits a body's ability to cool itself. Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol which can lead to dehydration.

It's also important to give your body a break from the heat. If you don't have air conditioning, spend at least a few hours at a place that does, such as a library or shopping mall. If your car has been super-heated by the sun, open the doors and windows and let it cool before you get in.

Alcohol and some prescription medications can heighten the effects of heat. Some of these medications include those for high blood pressure and heart problems (e.g. beta blockers, diuretics), allergies (e.g. antihistamines), anxiety (certain tranquilizers), and psychiatric problems (certain antipsychotics). Talk to your doctor about how to ease the effects. Some illegal drugs such as cocaine can also heighten the effects of heat.

If you feel yourself overheating, take immediate action. Move to a cooler location and loosen clothing. Sip cool water and apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible. If you or the person you are with shows signs of heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately.