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Top 4 Ways to Prevent Heat Related Illnesses

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Golden sky with sun and a temperature gauge

For many of us, summertime in the Iowa Great Lakes is synonymous with enjoying the outdoors and warm weather. However, when the temperatures and humidity levels rise, it can be harder to sweat, which is the body’s way of cooling off – and eventually result in heat exhaustion, heatstroke, or heat cramps. According to Lakes Regional Healthcare Emergency Department Physician Nalini Jagram-Payer, M.D., the best defense is prevention. She said staying cool and hydrated and replacing lost electrolytes are of utmost importance and gave the following tips to prevent heat related illnesses:


  1. Drink more fluids, regardless of activity level.

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, because once you are, you’re already dehydrated. Also, don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar or caffeine. These cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks because they can cause stomach cramps.


  1. Stay indoors and, if possible, stay in air-conditioning.

If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Take a cool shower or bath, jump in the lake, or move to an air-conditioned place for a much better way to cool off.


  1. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Also protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (which will also keep you cooler) and sunglasses and by wearing UVA/UVB sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.


  1. Limit unnecessary activity, especially outdoors.

Limit unnecessary outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas. If you must be outdoors, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.


Heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heatstroke may still occur in hot, humid weather if the body has excessive loss of fluids and electrolytes from heavy sweating or even worse, becomes unable to sweat enough to lower body temperature. Dr. Jagram-Payer said, “Mild to moderate sweating is good because it cools the body. However, excessive sweating depletes the body of essential electrolytes, which hinders blood circulation and the ability of the brain to function.”


Even without strenuous activity, you can develop a heat emergency in as little as two to three days if you do not have some way or somewhere to cool off and escape the heat and humidity. The hospital’s waiting areas and dining room are available to those without air conditioning who need a break from the heat and humidity.


Listed below are the symptoms and treatments for heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heat cramps.


Heat Exhaustion


  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Possible collapse
  • (Call 911 immediately if this occurs)


  • Replace lost fluids – drink cool water and sports drinks.
  • Move to a cool environment
  • Lie flat with head lower than the rest of your body




  • Confusion and disoriented
  • Flushed
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Increased heart rate (160-180 beats/minute)
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Increased body temperature (104⁰ to 106⁰)


  • Call 911; receive immediate medical treatment.
  • While waiting, wrap in wet bedding or clothing, immerse in a lake (only if you don’t feel faint) or cool bathtub, or cool with ice. Place in a cool, shady place and give cold water and sports drinks.


Heat Cramps


  • Muscle spasms
  • Involuntary muscle jerks


  • Apply ice to the cramping muscles.
  • Drink fluids or sports drinks.


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