Imagine it’s a hot summer day and you’re out enjoying the sun with friends or family. Suddenly, you realize you’ve been sweating a lot, you’re really thirsty, and you can’t move as easily as you did an hour ago. It’s possible you have heat exhaustion. Find some shade quickly and take a drink with you. While you’re doing that, you can read up on the cause of heat exhaustion and learn how to prevent it next time.
What is Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is the step before heat stroke. At this point, your body has lost too much water and electrolytes and you’re experiencing the damage heat can do to your body. It’s not yet a medical emergency, but if you don’t get out of the heat and drink some water soon, you could be at risk for heat stroke. Spend the next half hour trying to cool down and replenish your body’s fluids.
How to Know if You Have Heat Exhaustion
If you have heat exhaustion, you’ll be able to tell something is wrong. Watch for the following symptoms when spending time outdoors in hot temperatures:
- Pale or clammy skin
- Excessive sweat
- Heat rash
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive thirst
How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion
As climate change progresses, the risk of overexposure to heat will only increase. There are some simple things you can do to protect yourself from heat exhaustion and stroke.
Sunburns increase your risk of heat exhaustion by making it harder for your body to regulate its temperature. You can prevent sunburns by wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. You’ll want to apply it about a half hour before you head out into the sun and reapply as often as necessary, especially if you’ve been sweating or swimming and it washes off. When you’re shopping for the right product, watch for the words “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection.” They’ll offer the best protection.
Tailor Your Clothing to the Heat
There’s more to this than just putting on a hat and sunglasses (though you should probably do that too). When you get dressed in the morning, make sure you’re wearing loose, light-colored fabrics. Dark colors absorb more heat, and nobody wants a shirt sticking to them because they’re sweaty and the shirt is too tight. Try to use natural fabrics as well, like cotton and linen.
Drink Even if You’re Not Thirsty
Set a good baseline for your body by ensuring you drink enough fluids every day. Focus on things that won’t dehydrate you (like beer) and don’t have a diuretic effect (like coffee). The best option is the most obvious: water. If you don’t like plain water, try flavored sparkling water, low-sugar electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks, or herbal tea. If you wait until you’re thirsty to reach for a drink, you’re already mildly dehydrated.
Find Some Shade
Being outside in the heat doesn’t mean you need to stand in direct sun the whole time. That’s a surefire way to quickly get heat exhaustion. When you arrive wherever you’re going, scope out the best spots for shade. Maybe there’s a copse of trees or a tall building that blocks the sun. If you can’t find anything, come prepared with an umbrella and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
Eat Cooling Foods
Stay away from hot, heavy meals when it’s warm outside. They’ll heat up your body and make it easier for you to overheat. Your best summertime options are small portions and things that are naturally chilly, like salads, cold fruit, and low-sugar popsicles.
Get Used to Hot Weather
You can’t spend all day in the heat and be perfectly fine if you’re used to a colder climate. If you’re new to hot weather, pace yourself so you can acclimate to the weather first. Go out for a short period of time, then gradually increase the length of your exposure. But remember to stay hydrated. And don’t push yourself. Slow and steady wins the weather race.
Embrace Air Conditioning
If you’re staying inside and out of the heat, turn on your air conditioning if you have it. That way you’ll stay cool and comfortable even on hot summer days. If you don’t have air conditioning, try a fan — but if the weather gets too hot (over the 90s), you should head for an air-conditioned space to cool down.
Plan Your Activities Around Time of Day
Mid-afternoon is typically the hottest part of the day. Plan whatever you do around that time, so you’re not outside in the most intense heat. If you want to run or be outside for a while, aim for first thing in the morning or after the sun has begun to set. No matter the time of day, make sure to check the heat index before you go out so you can plan for the weather.
With record-high temperatures besetting the country as a result of climate change, it’s more important than ever to monitor your heat exposure and stay hydrated. If you follow these guidelines, you can still enjoy the outdoors without putting yourself at risk.