CareNow® - July 24, 2023

As the summer heat intensifies, it's essential that you're aware of the potential health risks associated with extreme heat. Whether you're spending the day at the beach or simply plan to exercise outdoors, high temperatures can put you at risk of a host of complications.

Educating yourself on what to watch out for if you're exposed to extreme heat and knowing the most effective strategies for preventing heat stroke can help you protect yourself and others from heat-related illnesses during hot weather conditions. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself safe this summer.

Does extreme heat cause headaches?

Many people experience headaches when they’re exposed to extreme heat, and understanding the link between the two can be helpful.

When you’re exposed to high temperatures, your body can lose fluids rapidly through sweating. Dehydration can lead to changes in your serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating pain. These changes may trigger headaches in susceptible individuals.

Extreme heat can also cause the blood vessels in your head to dilate, leading to increased blood flow. This dilation may contribute to headaches, particularly in individuals who are prone to migraines or tension headaches.

Factors such as direct exposure to sunlight, high humidity, and prolonged periods of heat can further exacerbate the likelihood of experiencing heat-related headaches.

What does heat stroke feel like?

As the most serious heat-related illness, heat stroke is considered a medical emergency that's caused by a dangerous rise in body temperature when the body’s sweating mechanism fails and it can’t cool down.

Recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke is crucial for getting treated quickly before serious complications occur. Here's what to look out for if you think you may be suffering from heat stroke:

  1. High body temperature: A core body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher is a hallmark sign of heat stroke.
  2. Altered mental state: Heat stroke can cause confusion, irritability, agitation, slurred speech, delirium, or even seizures.
  3. Dry skin or profuse sweating: In some cases, the skin may be dry, while in others, there may be excessive sweating. Both extremes are possible with heat stroke.
  4. Rapid heartbeat and breathing: Heat stroke can cause a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) and increased respiratory rate (tachypnea).
  5. Headache, dizziness, and nausea: Individuals experiencing heat stroke may complain of a severe headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, and feelings of nausea or vomiting.

If you or someone else are experiencing any of the symptoms above, it’s important to get immediate medical attention, as heat stroke can be life-threatening. Call 911 as soon as possible.

How do you treat heat stroke?

Never leave someone alone who is showing signs of heat stroke. It’s best to move the person to an area that is shaded and cool. You should also remove outer clothing as quickly as possible.

If you can, have them take an ice bath or get into a tub or pool with cold water. At the very least, you should wet the skin and place cold wet cloths on as much as the skin as possible, but especially focus on the head, neck, armpits, and groin.

What sports can cause heat stroke?

Engaging in sports or physical activities during hot weather increases the risk of heat stroke. Certain sports pose a higher risk due to their intensity, duration, and environmental factors. Here are some sports commonly associated with an increased risk of heat stroke:

  • Endurance sports: Sports that involve prolonged exertion, such as long-distance running, cycling, triathlons, or marathons, can significantly elevate body temperature and increase the risk of heat stroke.
  • Team sports: Intense team sports played outdoors, including soccer, football, basketball, and field hockey, can contribute to heat stroke risk due to the combination of physical exertion, high ambient temperatures, and limited rest breaks.
  • Tennis and racquet sports: Tennis, squash, and other racquet sports often involve prolonged periods of intense physical activity in hot environments, making players susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
  • Outdoor recreational activities: Hiking, mountain climbing, and other outdoor activities that require sustained effort and expose individuals to direct sunlight and high temperatures pose a risk of heat stroke.

It's crucial for athletes, coaches, and event organizers to prioritize proper hydration, rest breaks, and cooling strategies during these sports to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.

How to prevent heat stroke

While heat stroke may appear to come out of nowhere, it’s actually predictable and preventable if you know the right steps to take. Even if you don’t feel that temperatures are extreme, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Here are some easy steps you can take to prevent heat stroke.

Stay hydrated

The best way to prevent heat stroke is to drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don't feel thirsty. Do your best to avoid excessive caffeine as it can contribute to dehydration.

Dress in light layers

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics that allow air circulation, and use a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from direct sunlight.

Remain indoors

Whenever possible, stay in shaded areas or air-conditioned spaces to minimize exposure to extreme heat. If your home doesn't have air conditioning, visit public places such as libraries, shopping malls, or community centers that offer cool environments.

Be strategic with outdoor activities

Schedule outdoor activities during cooler times of the day, such as early morning or evening. Pace yourself and take frequent breaks in shaded areas to prevent overheating.

Practice sun safety

Finally, apply sunscreen with a high SPF, wear protective clothing, and use umbrellas or canopies to shield yourself from direct sunlight.

As summer temperatures rise, it's important to recognize and address the health risks associated with extreme heat.

Understanding the connection between heat and headaches, implementing preventive measures to avoid heat stroke, recognizing the symptoms of heat stroke, and identifying the sports that carry a higher risk are key steps in safeguarding your well-being during hot weather conditions.

By taking proactive measures, staying hydrated, seeking shade, and being mindful of your physical limits, you can enjoy outdoor activities while minimizing the risk of heat-related illnesses.

While heat stroke requires emergency medical care, there are other heat-related illnesses that can be treated by urgent care. If you believe you’re suffering from a non-life-threatening heat illness, consider visiting your local CareNow®.

We have more than 175 locations throughout the country — each open after hours and on the weekend. Be sure to take advantage of our Web Check-In® feature too so you can wait from anywhere!

And don’t forget — we’ve received the title of Accredited Urgent Care Center from the Urgent Care Association (UCA), so you know you’re in good hands.

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