We all love spending as much time outside in the summer as we possibly can. Nothing like taking on the trails on a sunny day! But hot days spent outside can put you at risk of heat exhaustion. Even as these last weeks of summer begin to cool down, it’s still important to take precautions against heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion is what happens when you get dehydrated from sweating. Symptoms can include nausea, headache, weakness, sweating, decreased urine output and a slightly elevated body core temperature (yikes). If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to a high-risk problem of heat-stroke (bigger yikes). Heat strokes happen when you have a dangerously elevated body core temperature. A person with heat stroke can have an altered mental status, brown or red urine, or feel hot and have flushed skin. If left untreated, heat stroke can lead to death.
Tips to prevent heat exhaustion and stroke:
- Stay Hydrated. On average, your body loses about one liter of fluid for every hour of exercise. Add humidity and extreme heat to that equation and you can lose up to three liters per hour. The problem? Your body can only absorb about one liter per hour. That’s why frequent water breaks are important when you’re out in the heat.
- Replace Salts. Ironically, a condition called hyponatremia can occur when you have too much water in your body. This means the sodium in your blood gets too low, which can also be dangerous. So while you’re stocking up on water, remember that it’s equally important to stock up on those electrolyte water tablets, bananas, dates, tuna, and raisins.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JUUSO RINGMAN | © JUNE 2017
- Cover Up. Protect your skin from exposure to direct sunlight on long days spent outside. Hats protect your head, lightweight longsleeves and pants can cover the rest of the body. This not only prevents burns, but also slows down the rate at which your body is evaporating fluids.
- Take Breaks in the Shade. Take your water and snack breaks in the shade when possible. This will minimize direct sun and heat exposure!
- Apply External Cooling. If you pass a cool body of water, take a quick dip to get your body temp down! Also, consider buying a cooling towel before your trip (worth the investment!). If you have long hair, wet it. If you have a hat, wet it. If you’re on a kayak, canoe, or packraft, you can dip your shirt in the water and put it on. Staying cool minimizes overheating!
Tips for treating heat exhaustion:
- Take a break in the shade.
- Replace fluid volume and salts.
- Evacuate if unable to rehydrate or conditions get worse.
Tips for treating heat stroke:
- Take a break in the shade or move to a cooler environment.
- Apply immediate and aggressive cooling. Cold water immersions are ideal. Ice packs, cold water, cold towels.
- Replace fluids and electrolytes.
- Evaluate and see if evacuation is necessary.
Make sure to take all the right steps to protect yourself from heat exhaustion and heat stroke, so you can enjoy the end of summer. Happy adventuring!
P.S. Most of the information in this article was derived from my Wilderness First Responder certification through Wilderness Medical Associates, and personal experience. For more information, I highly recommend one of their training programs or their book, Wilderness and Rescue Medicine by Jeffrey E. Isaac and David E. Johnson.