Some like it hot. They made a movie about it and even sang a song about it, but if you’re not careful the heat will take its toll. Having spent well over a decade in what was sometimes called the Army’s premier desert battalion, I learned to get along with the heat quite well. The key to surviving when it gets hot is having a plan to beat the heat, in other words, a plan to be safe.

Preventing Heat Injuries

Regardless which type of heat injury you are thinking about, the best method of prevention is to drink water. It’s just about that easy.

More specifically, drink cool water because cold water can cause cramps. Some sports drinks or rehydration drinks that include electrolytes and certain carbohydrates are also good to drink. If you’re really working up a sweat, ensure you take in some salt to replace that lost in your perspiration.

Be sure to acclimatize prior to strenuous activity. If you’re used to the hotter environment, then you’ll sweat more easily, which will keep your core temperature lower and help avoid heat injuries.

Avoid alcohol, diuretics (such as caffeine), laxatives, antihistamines and illegal drugs if you’re going to be working or playing hard in the heat. Bottom-line: don’t get dehydrated. A key indicator of your hydration level is your pee color: clear or light-yellow urine is good, darker yellow means drink more water.

Symptoms of Heat Injuries

There are three basic types of heat injuries, and they increase in severity:

  • Heat Cramps
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Heat Stroke

The first type of heat injury and the least severe is heat cramps. If you guessed that cramps were a symptom, you’d be correct.  Heat Cramps are painful and severe cramping in your major muscle groups, such as your arms, legs and abdomen. Working or other types of activities for extended periods in the heat, especially if you’re not used to the weather, causes excessive sweating and a loss of salt, which brings on cramps.

Heat Exhaustion is the next level and will actually be indicated by a rise in your body temperature among other symptoms. You may see someone’s body temperature increase up to 104 degrees and be accompanied by heavy sweating, headache and nausea or vomiting. Heat exhaustion is dangerous and medical care is required.

Heat Stroke is the next level and the most dangerous. Heat stroke can kill someone. Generally, someone will experience the symptoms in progression and get care before it gets to this point. Should someone progress into heat stroke, along with the raised body temperature you may observe problems with the central nervous system as well. As the injury continues to worsen, sweating will stop as the body begins shutting down and is no longer able to try to lower its own core temperature. Continued untreated, organ damage will begin to occur to include liver and kidney failure, blood clotting issues and brain damage. Heat stroke requires immediate medical treatment.

Treatment of Heat-Related Injuries

Heat Cramps: Move to shade and cool down. Massage the cramping arms or legs to increase circulation, and drink water with about a half-teaspoon salt per quart mixed in.

Heat Exhaustion: Get in the shade and cool down, loosen clothing and take in 1-2 quarts of water over an hour with a little salt mixed in. Get medical attention.

Heat Stroke: The victim may become unconscious. Ensure the airway remains clear. Lower the body temperature as quickly as possible. Remove or wet the clothing, and fan to increase cooling. Transport the victim to a hospital immediately.

Remember that children and elderly people may succumb to heat injury more quickly. Have fun in the sun, but remember to account for the heat.  Stay safe!