Weeks of rain are tapering off, and the mercury is rising across the Sooner State.
Escalating temperatures encourage weekends at the lake or family cookouts on the patio, but it pays to stay alert if you plan to be in the heat for an extended period of time.
Fortunately, OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D., says the vast majority of heat-related ailments, like heat exhaustion and heat cramps, can be avoided or overcome with little more than a bit of common sense. More serious conditions like heat stroke, however, can pose serious consequences.
Heat exhaustion is relatively common and includes symptoms such as dizziness, headaches and thirst. In most cases, it can be solved simply by unbuttoning your shirt collar, grabbing a cold beverage, and sitting down and relaxing for a few minutes.
“It’s somewhat unpleasant, but it’s not dangerous if your body overheats a little bit,” said Prescott, a physician and medical researcher. “Sure it can be a little scary and can cause a parent to panic if your child gets red-faced, but typically the answer is no more complex than: cool them off.”
At the heart of any heat-related illness is your body’s ability to maintain its core temperature. As the surrounding environment outdoors warms up, so does the body.
By constantly pumping blood to the skin and increasing the production of sweat, the body maintains its normal internal temperature, typically 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This process serves to promote heat loss, but when the rate of heat gain overwhelms the body’s ability to cool itself, it can result in a number of heat-related issues.
“A lot of the times, we might feel uncomfortable in the heat, but our core temperature actually hasn’t gone up more than a trivial amount,” said Prescott.
In heat stroke, however, the body loses control of temperature regulation and the internal thermostat begins to soar. That’s when things get dangerous, particularly in children, who are more prone to seizures, as from a high fever with a viral infection. Prescott said the most likely and greatest danger here is brain damage.
“A lot of it has to do with where the water is, because it controls the temperature,” he said. “When you lose the ability to cool off, you’re in real trouble. If you stop sweating, your internal alarms are sounding.”
Luckily, heat stroke tends to take hours of exposure to push the body into a true danger zone.
Prescott’s advice on how to best protect yourself in the heat: don’t overdo it, use good judgment and listen to your body. Find shade, take advantage of fans and air conditioners when possible, and always allow your body to cool down before you go back out in the sun.
“If you’re sweating profusely, stop and take a drink. Your body will give you all the necessary warnings. It’s when you ignore them that you can get into danger.”
Prescott also said to use good sense with all outside activities during the summer months.
“If the only time you can mow your yard is during the heat of the day on Saturday, break it up into segments so you can step aside and cool off in between,” he said. “It also wouldn’t be wise to do your daily run at 5 p.m. during July. Run in the morning or, like me, don’t run at all.”