During the warm summer months, many of us enjoy outdoor sports and hobbies such as gardening. Some also work outdoors in the heat. While the heat and sunshine make summer a favorite season for many, they can be dangerous if we’re not careful.

One of the biggest potential dangers in the summer is heat-related illness. These can occur when the mercury rises and we participate in outdoor activities. Heat stroke is perhaps the best known type of heat-related illness, but heat exhaustion is more common. By knowing the signs of heat exhaustion and how to prevent it, we can greatly reduce our chances of the more serious heat stroke.

Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion may occur when one has been working or exercising outdoors in hot weather, or when one has been exposed to high temperatures for several days. The very young, the elderly, those on certain medications, and those with high blood pressure are most susceptible, but it can happen to anyone. The symptoms include:

* Heavy sweating
* Muscle cramps
* Weakness or fatigue
* Headache
* Dizziness
* Nausea or vomiting
* Fainting
* Rapid pulse and respiration
* Dark urine

Preventing Heat Exhaustion

A few simple precautions can help us prevent heat exhaustion. Some of these are:

* Stay indoors in the air conditioning on very hot days if possible. This is especially important if the heat index is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
* Drink plenty of water. Cut down on caffeine, and avoid alcohol when it is hot out.
* Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
* Try to complete strenuous activities before 10:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m.
* If you must work or exercise outside when it is hot, take frequent breaks. Be sure to stay well hydrated before, during and after your activity.
* Stay in the shade as much as possible. It won’t eliminate the danger from the heat, but it will keep you a few degrees cooler than if you were in the sunlight.

If You Have Symptoms

If you notice any of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, it is important to get cooled off quickly. Sit or lie in a cool, shady place and drink plenty of fluids. Water is best, and alcohol should not be consumed. If possible, take a cool bath or shower.

If your symptoms get worse once you’ve attempted to cool off, or they last longer than 30 minutes to an hour, prompt medical attention is warranted. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke even if you’re no longer in the heat.

It’s important to take the dangers of being active in hot weather seriously. Heat exhaustion is unpleasant, and it can lead to a potentially life-threatening situation. By making a few adjustments to your plans and routine, you can greatly reduce your risk.