Heat stroke and stress are serious health risks for outdoor activity. For prevention of harmful effects ranging from sun burns to fatal heat strokes, it is imperative that you follow common sense and medically-proven practices to protect yourself from overheating.
Experienced hikers and campers know to carry and drink plenty of water and to wear clothes that protect them from the sun’s UV rays.
They also know to drink beverages, such as Gatorade, that replenish electrolytes and to take cover under shade when possible.
It is vital to practice healthy habits when out in the sun. What might start as a little fatigue could have very serious consequences.
“Overall, a total of more than 9,000 Americans have died from heat-related causes since 1979, according to death certificates,” a US EPA advisory on heat-related deaths said.
This translates into a rate of between 0.5 to 1 deaths per million, the EPA said. About twice that rate of patients require significant medical treatment, an EPA chart on heat-related hospitalizations said.
Understanding the causes of heat stress, exhaustion and stroke as well as the conditions that bring them about helps you prepare yourself better.
A bright sunny day with the sun blaring in a clear blue sky is not the only hazard, and you should continue to practice prevention even when the rays are not beating down on you intensely.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays can still penetrate through clouds, so hiking on a cloudy day means you still have to be ready for heat risks.
Heat stress symptoms
The National Weather Service describes heat exhaustion and heat stroke symptoms in the following lists and charts.
Heat exhaustion is an important warning sign that the activities being peformed and the physical conditions of the people performing those activities are out of sync with the temperature and amount of sunlight. It’s a sign to slow down for everyone to slow down and take a break in the shade.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
Weakness, dizziness or fainting;
A pulse that is racing, but weak;
If these symptoms appear, the National Weather Service recommends the following:
“Move person to a cooler environment
Lay person down and loosen clothing
Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible
Fan or move victim to air conditioned room
Offer sips of water
If person vomits more than once, seek immediate medical attention.”
Heat stroke is more serious. It demands immediate attention by medical professionals because, as the first aid advice below indicates, treatment can vary based on the patient’s condition.
“Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency,” the NWS said. “Call 911 or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal.”
The symptoms of a heat stroke are:
“- Altered mental state
– One or more of the following symptons: throbbing headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness, shallow breathing
– Body temperature above 103°F
– Hot, red, dry or moist skin
– Rapid and strong pulse
– Faints, loses consciousness.”
The National Weather Service’s first aid advice is:
“Move the victim to a cooler, preferably air-conditioned, environment.
Reduce body temperature with cool cloths or bath.
Use fan if heat index temperatures are below the high 90s. A fan can make you hotter at higher temperatures.
Do NOT give fluids.”
Heat Stress Prevention
But it is better, of course, to stay healthy and never put yourself in a situation where you have any sort of heat stress. The following advice will help you accomplish that.
AbundanceOutfitters.com encourages you to practice heat stress prevention when you are camping. Getting the right supplies and then using them on camping trips is one way to assess and to learn good prepping skills that will benefit you, your family and your community in times of emergency.
The major heat stress prevention measure is drinking water on a regular basis. Sipping from your water bottle every few minutes keeps not only comforts you by keeping your mouth and throat from drying out, but replenishes the fluids you lose through the vigor of outdoor activity.
Dehydration can sneak up on you unnoticed, said a Mayo Clinic article on dehydration. “Thirst isn’t always a reliable early indicator of the body’s need for water,” the Clinic said. “Many people, particularly older adults, don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated.
“If you’re dehydrated, you’re also likely to have low blood pressure, especially when moving from a lying to a standing position, a faster than normal heart rate and reduced blood flow to your extremities,” the Mayo Clinic said in describing the diagnosis of heat stress. Doctors may wish to check your blood and urine to determine the degree of dehydration, assessing levels of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, the Mayo Clinic said.
Heat cramps and heat rash are also health concerns, said the Centers for Disease Control of symptoms and first aid for heat-related illness. Putting baby power on the blisters of heat rash will help dry them out, the CDC said.
Heat cramps require serious attention, the CDC said. First and foremost get into a cool place and refrain from activity until they go away. But if the cramps last more than an hour, seek medical attention the CDC urges. You should also seek medical help for heat cramps if you are on a low-sodium diet or have health problems, the CDC said.
Electrolytes keep you in balance
Also, drinking beverages with electrolytes is also highly recommended because these nutrients (sodium, potassium and chloride) are extremely important in keeping your body in balance.
“Although water and the principal electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and chloride) are often excluded from lists of nutrients, these substances are essential dietary components, in that they must be acquired from the diet either exclusively or—in the case of water—in amounts well in excess of that produced by metabolism in the body,” said the National Institutes of Health about water and electrolytes.
UV protection of the skin from the sun’s rays
“Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting one in five Americans in their lifetime,” said the America Association of Dermatologists in a blog about UV protection. “Yet most cases of skin cancer can be prevented by protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
“The best way to do this is by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher,” AAD said. They also advised:
1. Be sure to read the label of the sunscreen product
2. Use a sufficient amount of sunscreen
3. Use sunscreen on cloudy days too
4. Don’t use stale sunscreen from expired bottles
5. Seek shade and wear protective clothing as well
Other skin protection
After being in the sun, you may want to moisturize and condition your skin. If your dermatologist has recommended a specific moisturizer use it or consult with the doctor again before trying something different. Or you’ve found your favorite product from the store.
But there are kitchen items that can help. Be sure to test a small amount on inconspicuous and not-to-tender patches of skin. One well-regarded homemade lotion cand be made from avocado. Honey is an antibacterial that is a skin care product when used sparingly.
Oils protect the skin too. One natural botanical oil that has demonstrated safety and that benefits the skin is sunflower oil, Dr. Peter Lio wrote in Dermatology Times, citing eight studies. It is particularly effective if the skin has exhibits dermititis, he said. Other botanical oils, especially mustard oil, have worsened skin conditions in some of the stories, Dr. Lio’s article said.
A wide-brimmed hat is the classic item of clothing that will afford you protection from the sun’s harmful rays. It not only keeps the sun out of your eyes (and, if the style is cool enough, makes you look like Clint Eastwood to boot) but it shades the more tender skin of your face from UV rays and the sun’s heat.
Long sleeves and long pants are also good choices. But there is a balance between the need for ventilation to cool you and having fabric that will block out harmful rays.
Wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts can keep you cool, but if the sun is really beating down you will want to head for the shade as much as possible. If you are wearing clothing that exposes skin to the sun, be sure to wear a sufficient amount of sunblock or sunscreen.