Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.  Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high. -Summertime, by George Gershwin

It’s Summer in the USA, and the weather is hot just about everywhere.  We’ve broken a lot of heat records in many parts of the country.  Combine the heat with outdoor activities and we have a higher risk of heat injury.

My wife and youngest daughter get heat exhaustion very easily.  In our family, we say that they “wilt” when the temperature and humidity get on the high side.  Once the thermometer hits about 85 F they start getting weak, flushed, nauseous, and don’t want to move.We learned this more than a few years ago, when we were doing historical reenactments. Fortunately, we figured out what was happening, got them cooled down, and got back to having fun.  A little A/C, a little cold water, a cool cloth on the back of the neck and everything was right as rain.  If you know what to keep an eye open for, you can keep heat injuries from ruining a family vacation.

What is heat injury, though?  Heat injury happens when a body either gets too hot and can’t cool itself.  There are three stages of heat injury.  In order of severity (least to most), they are: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Prevention
Just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean that you are destined to get a heat injury.  There are several things that can be done in order to prevent them.  First, know your limits.  I know that you’re out having a good time, whether it be at a theme park or the ball park.  Be aware of what your body is telling you.  Second, keep yourself well-hydrated.  Drink plenty of water or sports drinks, and avoid caffeine or alcohol, since these both can lead to dehydration.  Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, as these let your body “breathe” and let your sweat evaporate, which helps keep you cool.  Seek cooler environments.  Keep to the shade or duck into an air-conditioned building if you start to get too hot.

Heat cramps are just what they sound like: Muscle cramps.  They tend to happen in large muscle groups (calves, arms, back, abdomen), but can happen anywhere in the body.  Heat cramps are most commonly associated with heavy exercise in very hot weather.  Treatment for heat cramps includes stopping activity and cooling down, drinking clear liquids (e.g. water) or sports drinks, gentle stretching and massage to relieve the cramp.  If the cramp doesn’t resolve after an hour or so, see your doctor (Mayo Clinic).  Heat cramps are painful and annoying, but not dangerous.

Heat exhaustion is preventable but can progress to be dangerous if left untreated.  Heat exhaustion occurs when the body gets too hot and cannot cool down.  It happens when a body is exposed to high temperatures, especially if that exposure is combined with high humidity and strenuous activity.  The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion can come on over the course of days, or can hit suddenly.  They include cool, clammy skin even though the temperature is high, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, headache, dizziness, nausea, and fainting.  If these happen, immediately move to a cool place, stop activity, and drink cool water or sports drinks. If nausea is one of the symptoms, take frequent small sips in order to help prevent vomiting.  Contact medical help immediately if symptoms get worse, if they last more than one hour, or if body temperature reaches 104 F or above (Mayo Clinic).

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. It happens when the body stops being able to cool itself. High temperatures and high humidity contribute to heat stroke, as does strenuous physical activity.  Heat stroke can happen if you ignore signs and symptoms of the previous two heat injuries and your body temperature rises above 104 F.  The signs and symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature, a lack of sweating, muscle cramps or weakness, rapid heart beat with a strong pulse, mental confusion, seizures, losing consciousness, difficulty speaking or understanding others, and flushed (reddened) skin.  Treatment for heat stroke must include immediate medical attention and cooling of the body.  Heat stroke can cause brain damage, organ damage, or death.   If you think that someone has heat stroke, call 911 immediately.  While waiting for medical help, do everything that you can to get the victim cool: pack them with ice, get them covered in cool water-soaked towels, get them out of the heat in any way possible (Mayo Clinic).