October 26, 2014
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Seasonal Health

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Beat the summer heat

Baby, it's hot outside! Complaining about the weather seems like a national pastime. But in places where the mercury's soaring, these aren't just empty complaints. Heat and humidity aren't only uncomfortable - they can be downright dangerous if you don't take the proper precautions.

The elderly, young children, and people with existing respiratory problems like asthma and other health conditions are especially susceptible to illness as a result of the heat and pollution. Some medications can also raise your risk of heat-related illness.

But even healthy individuals face increased health risks when the temperatures climb. The risks are even greater when it's humid because humidity decreases your body's ability to cool itself off through sweating.

Heat-related illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and - the worst of the bunch - heat stroke. Heat cramps are cramps caused by a loss in electrolytes from sweating. Heat exhaustion, which can be a precursor to heat stroke, is when your body's natural cooling system breaks down, causing your body temperature to rise. This can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and a rapid heartbeat.

Heat exhaustion can be treated by loosening your clothes, moving to a cool place, and drinking extra fluid. Left untreated, it can develop into heat stroke, which is when the body's temperature climbs above 41°C. Heat stroke can be deadly, so if symptoms develop, seek emergency medical attention immediately. Symptoms include confusion or delirium, fever greater than 41°C, rapid heartbeat, seizures, and unconsciousness.

But these conditions can be prevented, so long as you take precautions when temperatures soar. So, other than moving to the Yukon, how can you beat the heat?

These tips can help you stay cool and safe:

  • Drink up. The extra fluid lost through sweating means you probably need more than the 6 to 8 glasses of water that are usually recommended per day. Seniors should take extra care to drink regularly, as they may not feel thirsty, despite a lack of fluid. Rehydration or sports drinks can also help to maintain your body's balance of sodium, while alcohol can increase your risk of dehydration. A good test of hydration is to check your urine - if you are drinking enough, it should be clear to pale yellow.
  • Practice sun smarts. Spending extended periods of time in the hot sun can raise your risk of heat illness, while a sunburn can make you feel even hotter and more uncomfortable. Limit time outdoors during the peak hours of 11 am to 4 pm and make sure to use sunscreen.
  • Limit strenuous activity, especially during the hottest hours of the day. We don't need to tell you that going for a jog in the scorching afternoon sun isn't the best way to stay cool, but if you have to do work outside, such as mowing the lawn, try to do it in the cooler evening hours.
  • Seek out cool places. If you don't have air conditioning, seek out cool places such as public splash pools and air-conditioned malls or the public library. A temporary break from the heat can bring a lot of relief.

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