The heat is on. How to protect your health in hot weather

July 19th, 2018

Smiling kids enjoying an underwater swim

It’s been a hot summer and doesn’t look like it’s going to get cooler any time soon. On the evening news, there’s an occasional story about a kid fainting (or worse) from the heat at a sports camp.

Heat is nothing to mess with, and the most vulnerable to its effects are the very young and the very old, said Dr. Cory Dietz, who practices family medicine at the UCHealth Primary Care Clinic – Falcon.

“The young and old have trouble regulating their temperature,” he said, “and that makes them more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.”

Kids at summer camps, sports camps or tryouts are particularly vulnerable because they “are usually involved in strenuous activity in hot weather.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heat-related illness, ranked from least to most serious, include: heat rash, sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The CDC breaks it into five categories: heat rash, sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat rash

“Usually, it’s just a reddish rash, small blisters, mostly found in sweaty areas of the body, like armpits, the groin, crease of the elbows, and such,” Dietz said.

Keep it cool and dry and do not apply the old remedy of baby powder – that has its own set of problems these days.

A family are sat at a lake on a nice summers day.

Sunburn

Everybody pretty much knows when they have a sunburn. It’s painful and red. It can range from mild to severe.  Mild sunburns can be treated at home but if blisters develop, you may want to see your medical provider.

Dietz recommends a moisturizer like aloe or an over-the-counter topical sunburn medication that may help numb the pain for mild sunburn. He also suggests taking Tylenol or ibuprofen for pain. Applying cool cloths can offer some relief, too.

For sunburns that blister, “Never break blisters,” he said. “That’s the body’s way of dealing with the burn and the body knows what it is doing. It’s OK if they break on their own, but don’t rush the process.”

Heat cramps

“This most often happens to folks who work outdoors” he said. “They come in the form of muscle spasms. The remedy is to drink lot of fluids, like sports drinks, which can help.”

Heat exhaustion

Now things are getting serious.

It starts with muscle cramps, and can include heavy sweating, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache and clammy skin, he said.

Once identified, “cool the person down by using cool cloths, getting them into a cool shower or bath, and giving them cool liquids to drink,” he said. “If those don’t help after an hour, seek medical help.

Shot of a father and son playing football.

“It’s very serious if you get to that point. If left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke.”

Heat stroke

Symptoms of heat stroke include a high body temperature – 103 or higher – and the victim is no longer sweating, Dietz said. The victim may be confused, disoriented and even passing out.

At this point, “it’s a medical emergency,” he said. “Call 911, or get them to an ER as soon as possible.”

Meantime, move the victim to a cooler place, use cool cloths, but do not give anything to drink, he emphasized. “Because if they’re passing out, they may not have control (of swallowing) and could choke.”

Doctors, especially emergency doctors, see a lot of heat-related illness in the summer.

“I’ve seen all of these, in one form or another,” he said.

All of these afflictions are mostly preventable, Dietz said, by using common sense, ordinary precautions and paying attention to the environment and the weather.

“Wear your sunscreen and drink plenty of fluids, especially in hot weather.”

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs and a regular contributor to UCHealth Today. She has written travel articles for major U.S. newspapers and national, regional and local magazines. She spent 32 years as an award-winning writer, reporter and editor for The Gazette in Colorado Springs.