Hot Summer Days: How to Stay Well in the Heat

From the WebMD Archives

It's so hot the early birds need oven mitts, as your Aunt Ida would say. But while everyone around you is running to find the A/C, you're on your way to get some sun. It's summertime, after all. What's a little heat?

You tick through your list. Icy water bottle? Check. Sunscreen with the highest SPF you can find? Check. Trusty, wide-brimmed hat? Check.

Not so fast. Did you know super-cold drinks can make your stomach cramp? Or that other things, like how well you slept last night or what meds you're taking could affect how well your body adjusts to the heat? They also have a lot to do with whether you feel well or get sick in extreme temperatures.

If you're an outdoor-type, you might believe you know how to prepare for the heat. But it actually takes more thought and planning than you might think, says Chad Asplund, MD. He's director of athletic medicine at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA.

When you spend too much time in the sun, your internal body temperature goes up. That can lead to heat rash or heat exhaustion. It happens when your body is so hot it can't cool itself. You're at even more risk if you don't drink enough liquids or you're pregnant, overweight, elderly, very young, or have heart disease.

In extreme cases, you can get exertional heat stroke. This can cause your central nervous system to shut down and your internal organs to fail. It can be fatal.

But if you keep a cool head and use common sense when you're out in super-hot summer weather, you should be fine. Asplund offers the following tips to help you stay well in the heat.

Take Cover

A tank top and shorts might seem like the best choice, but many fabrics just trap warmth. Bare arms leave you open to sunburn and skin cancer. You're better off in a light-colored airy blouse or long-sleeved shirt that lets air flow through. You can also find clothing with built-in UV protection.

Athletes have regular checkups to make sure they'll be safe in the heat for long periods, Asplund says. But it's actually a good idea for anyone.


Dump Heat to Cool Your Core

This means taking frequent breaks to lower your temperature. You'll reduce your chances of getting sick. It'll also help you if you live in the desert or high altitudes - two areas that can get so dry that you won't sweat. But even then, you still need to stay hydrated. A quick dip in a nearby pool or stream can do the trick.

Some people, like those with the sickle cell trait, have a harder time keeping cool, Asplund says. That's an inherited disorder that affects red blood cells. Extreme heat can make them even weaker and lead to muscle breakdown. This condition is most common among African-Americans and Hispanics. Your doctor can find out if you have it with a simple test.

Pair Up

"If you're going outdoors with someone else, they can get a sense if you are not acting right,"

Asplund says. They can tell if you have any of the early effects of heat sickness, like dizziness or

confusion. You can remind each other to drink lots of water and take frequent breaks in the

shade. "Also, if there is trouble, someone can provide aid or seek help," he says.

If you're going outside alone, let someone know your plans - your specific ones. "If you don't return on time, they'll know precisely what your route was so help can be sent," Asplund says.

Watch Your Intake

Liquids are a must in super-hot summer heat. But avoid alcohol and drinks with caffeine or lots of sugar. They'll cause you to lose more body fluids. Plain water is best.

Stay away from certain medications, too, especially those for thyroid and ADHD or anything that speeds up your metabolism, Asplund warns. Diuretics and laxatives also dehydrate you, so avoid those as well.

Go to Bed Early

Asplund says you should be well-rested and hydrated before any outdoor adventure. When your energy is low, it weighs you down, and your odds of getting sick go way up.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on December 16, 2015



CDC: "Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness."

Chad Asplund, MD, associate professor of health and kinesiology, director of athletic medicine, and head team physician at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA. "Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke."

Binkley, H. Journal of Athletic Training, published online September 2002.

Pryor, R., Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, September 2015.

Sickle Cell Disease Association of America: "Sickle Cell Trait and Athletics."

Occupational Safety & Health Administration: "Water. Rest. Shade."

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