How can I prevent heat illness?

To ensure that summer fun isn't interrupted by heat-related illness, everyone should be aware of how to prevent heat cramps, exhaustion and stroke. You may want to post some tips around the house so that kids and guests can stay informed.

First and foremost, it's important to drink plenty of fluids when spending time in the sun. It's nonnegotiable, even for little ones who insist they're not thirsty. Waiting for thirst to occur may result in dehydration. Additionally, beverages should be free of sugar and alcohol because these can exacerbate fluid loss.

Here are some guidelines for staying hydrated:
  • Drink 17 to 20 ounces (oz) of water two to three hours before you go out in the heat or start exercising.
  • Drink 8 ounces 20 to 30 minutes before you exercise or during warm-up.
  • Drink 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
  • Drink 8 ounces more within 30 minutes after exercising.
  • Drink 16 to 24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost after exercise.
When you sweat, your body is losing more than moisture. It's also seeping out the minerals and salt that help you retain water. As such, sports drinks may be a good beverage option if you're doing high-intensity exercise for more than 45 to 60 minutes. You may want to consider having snacks handy as well.

Don't forget to slather on broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and apply it to yourself and your kids 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure, paying careful attention to sun-exposed areas such as the face, hands and arms. Make sure that everyone wears sunglasses to protect their eyes and loose, lightweight, breathable clothing for warm-weather activities.
If you want to help prevent heat illness, first monitor the temperature and humidity and plan outdoor activity accordingly. Second, get acclimated. Gradually work toward exercise in the hotter time of the day and gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts. Third, drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a key factor in heat illness. Help your body sweat and cool down by staying well hydrated with water. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. If you plan to exercise intensely or for longer than one hour, consider a sports drink instead of water. Sports drinks can replace the sodium, chloride and potassium you lose through sweating. Eating a meal after activity will also replace electrolytes and other nutrients. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks because they can actually promote fluid loss. Finally, dress appropriately. Lightweight and loose fitting clothing help sweat evaporate and keep you cooler. Avoid dark colors, which can absorb heat.
(This answer provided for NATA by the Marist College Athletic Training Education Program.)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.