That is a pretty obvious statement, I know. We often hear how important it is to hydrate and stay inside during the heat of the day, but a recent family medical emergency has given me a much greater respect for what heat can do to your body. My brother nearly lost his life this Summer from a perfect storm of factors, with heat identified as the main culprit.
It may seem impossible not to sweat in Florida, but when you become overheated past a certain point, that is precisely what happens. Perspiration is our body’s mechanism to keep us cool. When your body is exposed to heat for an extended time, it loses the ability to sweat. So, if you are unable to sweat, it can get dangerous quickly.
Heatstroke is the next stage when your body is unable to regulate its temperature. This inability can be fatal, especially if you
ignore early warning signs. The manifestations of heat exhaustion include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, heavy sweating, and
headache. The warning signs of heatstroke, which can make you unconscious, are muscle cramping, fast heartbeat, vomiting, flushed skin, headache, and mental confusion. Sometimes symptoms don’t come on for several hours, well after returning to air
conditioning and hydrating. (Although my brother thought he was doing everything right on his late morning bike ride, he became
dangerously ill almost eight hours after coming inside. He spent a week in the hospital.)
Various factors can increase your risk: age, chronic illness, some medications, and being overweight, among others. Young
children and the elderly cannot regulate their body temperature as effectively as healthy younger adults. Chronic illnesses including hypertension, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis also increase a person’s vulnerability to heatstroke. Medications like beta-blockers, those used to treat allergies and seizures, stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin, and even caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate the effects of heat. Having a BMI (Body Mass Index – a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters) over 25 can also increase complications from high temps.
Many of us may feel like we are used to Florida heat and humidity. However, it seems to be getting hotter and hotter every year, with August and September bringing the highest temps. Even the most seasoned and savvy of us must take precautions. Our local meteorologists remind us to limit our time outside between 10 am and 4 pm and avoid direct sun as much as possible. If you will be doing vigorous activities like running, biking, rollerblading, pickleball or other sports, yard work, carrying heavy loads, and other similar chores, it is best to do so earlier in the morning or wait until evening.
To reduce your risk, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water is good, but alternating a low sugar electrolyte drink like Pedialyte, G2, or
Powerade Zero has added benefits by providing sodium, potassium, phosphate, calcium, and magnesium. Cooling towels draped across the back of your neck and peppermint oil across your forehead, the back of your neck, and wrists also help cool you down. Covering up with loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and topping off with a vented hat is essential as well. Jumping in a pool during the heat of the day is a great way to cool off too!
With kids going back to school soon, be sure they have a refillable water bottle for their ride or walk home. After the death of high school football player Zach Martin-Polsenberg nearly two weeks after collapsing from heat illness during practice, school sports directors have become more conscientious about giving student athletes frequent breaks. Zach’s mom has been on a crusade to prevent other deaths. Because of her efforts, cooling tubs are now more prevalent at sports practices and games throughout the region.
We can safely enjoy our hot, sunny paradise, but we need to be mindful and pay attention to our bodies! Stay well – and cool!
Note: Featured photo is Michelle Avola Brown