Simmer down

How to keep your cool during the summer

How to keep your cool during the summer

July 21, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Steven Lough spends much of his work life in air conditioned comfort. His father has spent 27 years in a less than comfortable box factory warehouse.

So when it comes to beating the heat when ac is not an option, the elder has a leg up on his son.

"The heat doesn't bother him," says Lough, an athletic trainer, about his father. "But coming from a desk job I go out for four, five hours and I'm tired because my body's not used to it."


Welcome to the club. With the mercury rising to create surface-of-the-sun-like conditions, many are searching for the safe havens of shade and central air.

Unfortunately, lawns must still be mowed, gardens still tended and, for some, exercise still accomplished. Or some unlucky souls must be outside to earn a living, whether painting houses, landscaping or working construction.

Keeping cool is job one, and should not be underestimated according to Thomas Anderson, M.D., from Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital and Gail Brown, M.D., with Smithsburg Family Medical Center.

And this goes beyond simply avoiding activity at peak sunlight hours (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) or wearing light clothing made of a breathable material.

"Be smart, and listen to your body," Brown says. Here are a few other tips to consider when trying to beat the heat.

Drink fluids. Often.

Lough, Sports Medicine and Rehabilitative Therapies Healthplex Coordinator at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., recommends stopping every 15 minutes or half-hour to drink some water, which helps regulate body temperature. Anderson says those working in the heat need to be attuned to their bodies to determine how often to replenish fluids.

"You shouldn't feel thirsty," he says. "It's too late when you feel thirsty. On the other hand, you shouldn't feel bloated or nausea either. You just have to go with what your body tells you."

A caveat: Lough says alcoholic beverages can dehydrate the body. Even sodas alone won't replenish all that is needed, so water should be mixed in with the occasional can of pop.

Get misty.

Like regular drinking, Lough endorses keeping a spray bottle of water close by to use often as a quick cool-down method. A cold compress, kept on the forehead or back of the neck for a few seconds will also do the trick. A similar effect can be created by running through a sprinkler or going for a quick dip in the pool.

Brown says a handheld fan also works well. The body cools down not by sweating but by the evaporation of sweat. Holding a fan next to the body helps evaporate sweat faster.

Cover up.

If you're working in the blistering summer sun, hats are a must to ward off damaging ultraviolet rays from direct sunlight. They also trap heat that would otherwise escape from the head.

The solution? Leave heavy wool baseball caps in the closet and opt for airier toppers, made of straw or other porous material.

These are simple tips, but easily ignored by weekend warriors rolling up their sleeves to tackle big projects.

Anderson stresses self monitoring, recognizing that in extreme heat even standard tasks might take a little longer to complete.

"From a physician's point of view, the heat puts additional stress on the body," he explains. "People get in trouble in the heat when they do things that cause exertion, whether sports or work around the house."

Don't let the heat win: 3 problems caused by extreme heat and treatments

Heat cramps - Caused by loss of too many fluids from the body, or an electrolyte imbalance (loss of salt). Can affect arm, leg or abdominal muscles.

Treat it - Drink water at regular intervals, or sports drinks made to replenish electrolytes. Or create your own solution by adding one tablespoon of salt to a quart of water.

Heat exhaustion - Caused by either salt or water depletion, symptoms can alternate between cold and clammy skin (salt depletion) or hot and dry skin (water depletion).

Treat it - As with heat cramps, replenish fluids and electrolytes; lie down in a cool room.

Heatstroke - The most serious heat syndrome, it causes the body's natural cooling processes to fail. Untreated, or treated too late, it can result in damage to the central nervous system and, possibly death.

Treat it - Individuals with heatstroke require immediate medical attention. They should be cooled down by any method necessary, including immersion in a cool bath or covered in cold, wet towels or sheets until paramedics arrive or they are taken to a hospital.

Source: Steven Lough, athletic trainer, Sports Medicine and Rehabilitative Therapies Healthplex Coordinator at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

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