Prevention and Wellness

Answers to Common Heat Illness Questions

Premier Health’s Sports Medicine doctors answer frequently asked questions about heat illness.

What is heat illness, and what are the different levels?

Dr. Rayborn discusses heat illness and the different levels. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Heat illness happens when your body temperature rises to dangerous levels, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff   Site Icon (NIH). Usually, your body cools itself by sweating, but when it is extremely hot and humid, sweating isn’t always enough.

Heat illnesses usually happen from staying outside in the heat too long. There are different levels of heat illness, according to the NIH, including:

  • Heat rash – excessive sweating can cause this skin irritation
  • Heat cramps – these muscle pains or spasms can happen during heavy exercise
  • Heat exhaustion – this illness happens before heatstroke, with symptoms including heavy sweating, fast breathing and a fast pulse
  • Heatstroke – this illness can be life-threatening because the body’s temperature can get dangerously high – above 106 degrees. Symptoms include dry skin, fast pulse and dizziness

For more information about heat illness, talk with your physician.

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How can heat illness be avoided?

Dr. Rayborn discusses how to avoid heat illness. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript

 

The best way to avoid heat illness is to stay inside someplace air conditioned when it is extremely hot outside, according to the Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

If you have to be outside, it’s important to do your best to keep cool and use common sense about how to stay safe from the heat. The CDC recommends:

  • Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before being in the sun and reapply as needed
  • Find a buddy so you can keep an eye on each other
  • Find shade when possible
  • Pace yourself and seek cool shelter as soon as you start feeling hot
  • Try to schedule activities during cooler times of day
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes

Talk to your doctor for more information about way to avoid heat illness.

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If I start to exhibit signs of heat illness, what can I do to alleviate the symptoms?

If you start to have symptoms of heat exhaustion, there are steps you can take to help ease the symptoms and help keep them from becoming dangerous, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[Link to http://www.cdc.org/ in a new window with off site icon and 3rd party content disclaimer] (CDC).

If you have heat exhaustion symptoms, such as heavy sweating, weakness and cold/clammy skin, the CDC recommends:

  • Find and go to a cooler location
  • Lie down and loosen your clothes
  • Put cool, wet clothes and clothing on as much of your body as possible
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you vomit
  • Sip cold water

For more information about alleviating heat illness symptoms, talk with your doctor.

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What is the standard of care for heat illnesses?

Dr. Convery discusses the standard of care for heat illnesses. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

For most types of heat illness, you can be treated by finding ways to cool down, such as getting to a cool, air-conditioned location, drinking plenty of water and/or taking a cool shower or bath, according to the Disease Control and PreventionOff   Site Icon (CDC).

The same is true for heat rash, except for this illness, you should keep the rash area dry.

For heat stroke, however, it is important to call 911 immediately because it is a medical emergency and can be life threatening, according to the CDC.

Talk with your doctor for more information about care for heat illness.

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How does humidity affect athletes?

Dr. Rayborn discusses how humidity affects athletes. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

When the humidity is high – about 60 percent – it becomes difficult for sweat to evaporate, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic SurgeonsOff Site Icon (AAOS).

Without losing heat from the body, and athlete is at higher risk of suffering from a heat illness, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

During times of extreme heat and extreme humidity, the AAOS recommends rescheduling or cancelling athletic activities for a safer time or a different location.

Talk to your doctor for more information about how humidity can affect athletes.

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Does the type of clothing someone wears make a difference in the sun?

Dr. Rayborn discusses how clothing choice makes a difference in the sun. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Wearing light-weight, light-colored clothing can help make a difference in the sun. The light-colored clothing will not absorb the light and will help keep you from getting even hotter, according to the Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC).

For more information about the effects of clothing you wear in the sun, talk with your physician.

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During physical activity, what is considered proper fuel for the body?

To prep your body to be physically active, it’s important to put the right fuel in, according to the American Heart AssociationOff Site Icon (AHA).

You want to have enough energy to be able to maximize your activity, and fueling up the following ways, according to the AHA, can help:

  • Avoid saturated fats and too much healthy protein – These fuels are hard for the body to digest and take longer in your stomach, which takes away oxygen and blood from your muscles
  • Eat healthy carbs – Try whole grain cereals, whole wheat toast, low fat yogurts, whole grain pastas, fruits and vegetables
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water

If you will be active for hours, make sure you stay well hydrated by frequently taking sips of water. And, if you are active for more than an hour, try to eat 100 calories of something such as a banana, energy bar or raisins to keep up your energy, according to the AHA.

For more information about staying well fueled and energized while being physically active, talk with your doctor.

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What is the difference between water, sports drinks and energy drinks?

Health organizations overwhelmingly agree that water, sports drinks and energy drinks are not interchangeable.

Water is usually the best option for staying well hydrated, according to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Sports drinks contain carbohydrates and electrolytes that are supposed to replace ones that are lost through sweating during long stretches of physical activity, according the American Academy of PediatricsOff Site IconOff Site Icon (AAP).

Sports drinks are usually only helpful for very intense activity that last longer than an hour. With normal play, having a healthy snack and a drink of cold water during a break is a much better option, according to the HSPH.

Sports drinks and energy drinks are very different, but they often can be confused, according to the AAP.

An energy drink contains substances that act as stimulants, including caffeine, guarana and taurine, according to the AAP. Some energy drinks contain more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is about the amount of caffeine as in 14 cans of soda.

For more information about the difference between water, sports drinks and energy drinks, talk with your physician.

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Source: Jeffrey Rayborn, MD, Premier Orthopedics; Michael Barrow, MD, Samaritan North Family Physicians; Sean Convery, MD, Premier Sports Medicine; Brett Hoffman, Athletic Trainer, Premier Health Sports Medicine

Content Updated: July 25, 2018

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