Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, high humidity and strenuous physical activity (even golfing!). Without prompt treatment it may become a life-threatening condition. In hot weather, your body cools itself mainly by sweating. Evaporation of sweat lowers body temperature. However, when you exercise strenuously especially in hot, humid weather, your body is less able to cool itself efficiently. If you suspect a heat-related illness, stop exercising and get out of the heat.
In most cases, you can treat heat exhaustion yourself by doing the following:
Rest in a cool place. Get to an air-conditioned building or at least, find a shady spot. Rest on your back with your legs elevated higher than your heart level.
Drink cool fluids. Stick to water or sports drinks (Gatorade). These drinks can replace the sodium, chloride and potassium you lose through sweating. Don’t drink any beverages that have alcohol or caffeine — these can promote fluid loss. Your body’s ability to sweat and cool down depends on adequate rehydration. Drink plenty of water while you’re working out, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Apply cool water to your skin. If possible, take a cool shower, sponge down or soak in a cool bath.
Loosen clothing. Remove any tight unnecessary clothing.
Contact us at FMP if your signs or symptoms worsen, or if they don’t improve within 30 minutes.
Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-coloured clothing. Dark or tight clothing holds in heat and doesn’t let your body cool properly because it inhibits sweat evaporation. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing promotes sweat evaporation and cooling by letting more air pass over your body.
Avoid the midday sun. Wear a lightweight, wide-brimmed hat. Use an umbrella to protect yourself from the sun. Apply sunscreen to exposed skin. Exercise in the morning or evening — when it’s likely to be cooler outdoors — rather than the middle of the day.
Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty.
Slow and easy. If you’re used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first. As your body adapts to the heat, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts. If you have a chronic medical condition or take medication, ask your doctor if you need to take additional precautions.
Dr WB McNaull is the medical director at Family Medical Practice 298I Kim Ma, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Tel: (04) 3843 0748