The Effects of Extreme Heat on Your Health

  • Jul 01, 2017

With the approaching summer months, high temperatures, stifling humidity and prolonged sun exposure all pose risks to your health if the proper precautions, such as having access to a real time weather tracker, are not taken. On particularly warm days, you’ll often hear stories of individuals suffering from heat exhaustion or heatstroke. These conditions are not interchangeable, however. Let’s take a moment to understand the difference between the two, their symptoms and how you can protect yourself from summer heat hazards.

Heat Exhaustion Vs. Heatstroke

When the body overheats, it begins exhibiting a variety of symptoms, many of which attempt to cool down the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive sweating, nausea, increased heart rate, fatigue, disorientation, headaches and muscle cramps are all signs of heat exhaustion. If the body is unable to cool itself down or if exposure to high temperatures persists, the next phase is heatstroke, a much more serious condition.

Heatstroke occurs when the body reaches a temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point internal systems begin to fail, including the heart, kidneys and brain. While symptoms can vary, the health risk is invariably high and potentially fatal, if untreated. However, one diagnostic test for heatstroke is a lack of perspiration. As the body shuts down, it is no longer able to sweat and keep itself cool, causing your internal temperature to rise. If this occurs, seek medical attention immediately.

The Dangers of Dehydration

Staying hydrated is one of the most effective preventive measures against heat exhaustion and stroke. At the first signs of dehydration, you should seek water and rest immediately. Dehydration occurs when the body loses water, usually through sweat. The early symptoms include:

•Dry mouth
•Increased thirst
•Headaches or dizziness
•Decreased or yellowed urination
•Fatigue

Once dehydration sets in, the body becomes much more susceptible to heat exhaustion. It’s important to hydrate when active in high temperatures because the body is losing water more rapidly. You should replenish at least as much fluid as you’re expending.

The Importance of UV Protection

While high temperatures and humidity can cause the body to overheat, the sun presents its own set of risks. In direct sunlight, your body is exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are a form of radiation. There are three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. The biggest risk to skin is from UVA radiation, which can penetrate the top layer, causing damage to connective tissue. This damage, scientists believe, can lead to the development of skin cancer.

Fortunately, sunscreens can offer a protective layer between your skin and harmful UVA rays. The sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreen indicates how long you can be exposed before harm. For example, SPF 10 means you can be exposed to UV light 10 times longer than unprotected. If your job keeps you out in the sun on a daily basis, you should apply at least SPF 15 sun protection every two hours as recommended while working. Other sun safety recommendations include:

•Wear wide-brimmed hats and UV-rated sunglasses to protect the eyes
•Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before exposure
•Wear dark, tightly knit clothing, which absorbs light
•Utilize high-SPF clothing

These sun’s rays not only make regulating your body temperature difficult but cause serious long-term health risks. Always take the proper precautions.

Protecting Yourself Against Heat-Related Illness

Heatstroke is attributed to over 600 deaths annually in the United States. Your best lines of defense against heat-related illness are hydration and shelter. Be sure to proactively drink water throughout the day, as your body uses more water to stay cool. Additionally, if you begin to show the symptoms of heat exhaustion, find a cool place out of the sun to rest and rehydrate.

This summer, it’s important to be mindful of heat’s effect on the body. For more information and resources on heat-related illness prevention, contact us today.