Working Outside in the Heat
Vicki Copeland, MD, is a family physician on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. Her office can be reached at (623) 873-8236.
Question: I am outside quite a bit during the day. What should I watch out for as far as heat-related problems?
Answer: If you can, avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day. It is better to do whatever you have to do in the early morning or evening when the heat is not so intense. That said, if you have to be out there are several things you can do to help protect yourself.
Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing. If we look at other cultures that live in hot climates you’ll see that a lot of them cover their entire body. Loose fitting clothing not only protects your skin from the sun, it traps your body’s perspiration close to your skin and acts as its own cooling system. Wearing a covering on your head is important for the same reason.
One of the most critical things you need do is stay hydrated. If you know you are going to be out in the heat start drinking fluids approximately two hours ahead of time. For most people water is sufficient. Don’t overdo the water, though. There is a condition called water intoxication where people consume so much water they dilute out their electrolytes and end up with low sodium and potassium. If you are going to be drinking a lot of fluids, Gatorade or other drinks that replenish the electrolytes in you system are good. Stay away from alcohol and caffeine because they can increase your fluid loss.
Beware of what your body is telling you. Symptoms that you are in trouble include headache, nausea, cramping, dizziness or fainting. These should be taken seriously.
If you experience any of these symptoms, immediately find a cool place to sit down and get fluids into your system. If your body doesn’t respond, get help. If you stop sweating or stop urinating the problem is reaching a very serious stage and you need to seek medical attention right away.
People that are not used to the heat who go out and work in their yard or try to do a big project outside are probably the most prone to problems because their bodies are not accustomed to the heat.