Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Beat the Heat

The summer has begun, and with it comes the seasonal onset of heat waves. We've been suffering through high environmental temperatures recently, and with global warming, it's likely that very hot summers will be the rule rather than the exception. Humidity makes the situation worse, as it impedes evaporation of sweat, which is a major body cooling mechanism for humans. The National Weather Service has a heat index that roughly correlates air temperature and relative humidity to derive an "apparent temperature." At all temperatures, humidity makes the situation worse. For instance, at an air temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit, if the relative humidity is 80%, the apparent temperature is 97 degrees F. So, you must be extremely careful not to overdo it when the thermometer is rising.

The most effective ways to avoid heat-related illnesses are to:

  1. Stay well hydrated. Adequate water ingested during exercise is not harmful, does not cause cramps, and is your best protection. If you are sweating a great deal, you should consider replacing electrolytes by drinking an electrolyte-and sugar-enriched beverage such as Gatorade.
  2. Be very watchful of the very young and very old, as they do not regulate body temperature well.
  3. Stay in shape.
  4. Don't drink alcohol or use recreational drugs.
  5. Condition yourself for the environment.
  6. Wear clothing that is appropriate for the environment, so that you can shed layers as necessary. 
  7. If you are sweating, towel yourself off frequently.
  8. Stay out of the sun on a hot day. 
  9. Avoid taking medications that inhibit the sweating process. 
  10. Finally, use common sense - if you are in the heat and feeling poorly, seek shade or another cooler location as soon as possible.
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Tags: Hot & Cold

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.