As temperatures begin to soar, it is important to remember that summertime in the Southeast means everyone is at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Atrium Health Navicent physicians urge individuals of all ages to be mindful of heat-related illnesses that can be prevented with proper caution and care, especially when exercising outside.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 700 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year and there are about 67,500 emergency department visits due to heat.
Heat exhaustion is a severe reaction to heat exposure. Signs include weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and finally, collapse. The skin becomes cold and clammy while pupils dilate, and body temperature and blood pressure become lower. At the first sign of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat, rest and drink water.
If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. Signs include confusion and lethargy, lack of perspiration, high body temperature and seizure. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles, and possibly lead to death.
Even for people who are used to exercising or working outside, heat exhaustion can sneak up quickly if high temperatures and high humidity collide.
“Start slowly and limit the amount of time you exercise outside until you are used to the climate. Drink fluids before you go outside and carry fluids with you to drink during exercise. Take the time to get acclimated to the temperature and humidity that day, especially if you’ve recently moved here from a cooler climate or you aren’t used to exercising outside,” said Dr. Harry Strothers, chief of Family Medicine at Atrium Health Navicent Primary Care West Macon.
For many athletes and fitness enthusiasts, the heat does little to deter exercising outside. But with the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, it’s important to exercise safely. Below are a few tips to keep in mind:
Hydration is key: Always remember to hydrate before, during and after exercise. Especially in extreme heat, the importance of staying hydrated cannot be stressed enough. You should always begin your exercise well-hydrated and continue to drink water throughout your workouts. Drink cool water when possible, as your body absorbs it faster.
Add sports drinks as needed: While water is best for most people and most situations, sports drinks can be consumed in moderation, or if you plan to exercise intensely or work out for a prolonged period of time. Steer clear of juice and sodas.
Don’t rely on thirst as a signal that you’re dehydrated: Feeling thirsty is not the best indicator of whether you need to drink more water. Thirst occurs after your body is already dehydrated and is satisfied before your water supply is fully replaced. This means you should constantly be hydrating, regardless of how you feel.
Determine the best time to exercise: Choosing the best time of day to workout is imperative to your health and safety. To avoid the hottest parts of the day and for maximum sun protection, try exercising in the morning or evening. These times of day offer duel benefits, such as beginning your morning with a jog or walk to increase your endorphins, or yoga in the evening to wind down.
Get used to the heat: Give yourself at least one to two weeks to adapt to the heat, especially if you’re used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather. As your body adapts to the heat over time, gradually increase the time and intensity of your workouts.
Wear loose-fitting clothing: Choose breathable and lightweight workout attire, which will allow air to better circulate during your workout while permitting sweat to evaporate more easily. This type of clothing can also protect your skin from sun exposure, which can lead to sun damage, skin irritation, breakouts or heat rashes.
Know your limits: If you’re feeling out of shape or are new to exercise, be extra cautious when working out in the heat. Reduce your exercise intensity and take frequent breaks. Don’t go overboard! If you begin to feel dizzy, nauseated, confused or have trouble breathing, stop immediately to rest.
Regardless of fitness level or outside activity, the people most at risk for heat-related illness are young people, who have plenty of energy and don’t notice that they are having a problem until it’s too late, and older people, whose bodies can’t compensate for the heat or who may have underlying medical problems.
If you are feeling overheated or a loved-one is behaving oddly, be sure to speak up!
“Be watchful for the obvious symptoms and signs that people are in distress, and help them get to an area that’s cooler. Use cool towels or ice packs on the neck, forehead and under arms. Spray the person with water, or help them into a tub of cool water. Give them water or electrolyte fluids, but realize that if they aren’t better within 15 minutes, they need to seek emergency help,” Strothers said.
If heat-related illness does occur, seek appropriate medical treatment. For emergency situations, call 911 or seek care at the nearest emergency center. Atrium Health Navicent offers emergency care at the following locations:
Atrium Health Navicent The Medical Center (770 Pine St., Macon)
Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital (888 Pine St., Macon)
Atrium Health Navicent Peach (1960 Hwy 247 Connector, Byron)
Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin (821 North Cobb St., Milledgeville)
Monroe County Hospital, Atrium Health Navicent Partner (88 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Forsyth)
Putnam General Hospital, Atrium Health Navicent Partner (101 Greensboro Road, Eatonton)
For non-life-threatening injuries, visit your nearest urgent care provider. Atrium Health Navicent provides urgent care at three Macon locations.
Atrium Health Navicent Urgent Care North (3400 Riverside Drive, Macon)
Atrium Health Navicent Urgent Care East (1339 Gray Highway, Macon)
Atrium Health Navicent Urgent Care Northwest (5925 Zebulon Road, Macon)
Need help finding a doctor? Visit navicenthealth.org and click “Find a Doctor.”