Beat soaring temperatures

Published 5:09 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

As humidity and temperatures rise, so do the chances of suffering from a heat-related illness, medical professionals say.

Heat-related illnesses fall on a broad spectrum, from minor concerns like heat rash to more threatening problems like heat stroke, said Dr. Heath Hale, a primary care sports medicine doctor at Shelby Sports Medicine and Family Medicine in Pelham.

The best way to avoid heat-related illnesses is to identify the risk factors. Elderly people, small children, overweight or obese people and athletes are more susceptible, Hale said.

Other risk factors include alcohol consumption and certain medications, such as blood pressure medicine, laxatives and dietary supplements.

“Heat-related illness is almost always entirely preventable,” Hale said. “Most importantly, athletes need proper fluid replacement before, during and after exertion.”

Heat-related illness occurs in anyone participating in activities where the core body temperature can become elevated, although it primarily affects athletes, Hale said.

Football players are more likely than other athletes to suffer from a heat-related illness because of their summer workouts and the equipment they wear.

All athletes should become “acclimatized” before practicing out in the heat. They should slowly add more equipment and increase intensity, instead of doing so suddenly. They should also make sure to stay ahead on fluid and sodium intake, Hale said.

Here are some hot weather tips from Jennifer Dutton, who covers Shelby County as a regional extension agent of nutrition, diet and health:

-Drink fluids, preferably water, even when you are not thirsty. Many times people become dehydrated before they feel thirst. Avoid coffee, tea, and sugary caffeinated beverages.

– Avoid alcohol because it interferes with the body’s ability to fight heat stress and strains the heart.

– Eat light when working outside. Avoid hot, heavy meals, and eat small frequent meals instead.

– Opt for foods high in water content: Watermelon, apples, kiwi, grapefruit, coconut, and berries are full of sweet juices that will help keep the body hydrated. Salad greens, especially lettuce, spinach and collard greens also contain high amounts of water and antioxidants to help protect the eyes against damaging UV light.

– Take baths and showers because water conducts heat away from the body.

– Dress in lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Cotton and natural fabrics are generally cooler.

– Avoid midday heat in the hours of 12-4 p.m.

– Apply sunscreen to your skin before going outside. Use SPF of at least 15.