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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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Heat Wave

It’s very hot across the U.S. right now, and my emergency doctor friends report that they’re caring for many patients struck down with heat-related illnesses, including fainting, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Unlike cold weather, which can sometimes be forgiving, hot weather is devastating, because humans are not able to tolerate body temperatures much above 104 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

I wrote recently about beating the heat, but it bears mentioning again. For weather like this, particularly when it’s humid as well, here are recommendations that may keep you from crossing the boundary from just feeling hot into serious medical illness:

  1. Stay well hydrated. Thirst may not be an adequate indicator of how much water you need to drink, so be sure to keep up with your fluid losses by drinking enough so that you have to urinate often. If your urine is dark in color, then you are likely dehydrated, so keep drinking. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, supplement water with an electrolyte-containing beverage, such as Gatorade.
  2. Curtail heavy exercise when it is hot, and particularly when it is humid. Above 75% humidity, you will have difficulty evaporating sweat, so your natural cooling mechanism is impeded.
  3. Wear a broad-brimmed hat in the sun. Better yet, stay out of the sun.
  4. When you feel hot, immediately seek a cooler location. 
  5. Don’t bundle yourself in hot clothing in the heat. Don’t try to lose water weight as part of any weight loss program. 
  6. Avoid alcohol and other beverages that act as diuretics.
  7. If you are supervising children, athletes, or laborers in the heat, pay close attention to their behaviors. Anyone who seems overly tired, confused, or inappropriate may be on the verge of serious heat illness. Get them to a cool location, have them shed articles of clothing, and begin to lower their body temperature.
  8. The second leading cause of death, after head injuries, in athletes is heat stroke. It is cruel and unnecessary, and particularly dangerous, to withhold water from athletes during practice and games. Furthermore, they are at great risk for overheating when exercising while wearing occlusive uniforms, hats, and helmets. Provide frequent water breaks and rest periods for all athletes.
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About the Author

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

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