Dublin has enjoyed some high temperatures so far this summer and understandably many of us are more active outdoors when the sun is shining. We must be aware of the potential issue of heat related injuries sustained from exercise in sport and other forms of strenuous work-related activity.
I don’t want to put a dampener on our untypical warm and sunny weather but rather my intention is to simply raise awareness. Many of us may not have a lot of experience training in such warm conditions but I do from my youth growing up in sunny South Africa.
It’s important to realise from the start that heat injuries can be life-threatening, if precautions are not taken. Heat injuries can start with mild forms of heat cramps which are easily treated if identified early enough.
Let’s look at different types of heat injuries.
Such cramps are caused by the levels of body fluids reducing too far before replenishment, typically as a result of prolonged forms of exercise in hot conditions. These cramps can produce pain in the stomach as well as possibly be felt in the muscles of the arms and legs.
How to treat heat cramps
- Stop exercising immediately
- Replace fluids by drinking an electrolyte solution (low sugar and salt mix)
- Perform gentle stretches of the affected arm and leg muscles
As a result of water/fluid loss
When the symptoms of heat cramps deteriorate further, when fluid loss is not replaced, the body will begin to suffer weakness and more extreme fatigue, headaches and with possible fainting episodes.
A key sign the heat injury is progressing to this stage is when the body actually stops perspiring but the skin and body temperatures continue to rise.
Important note: people taking diuretic medicines are at higher risk
As a result of salt loss
The body depends on salts and minerals for optimal functioning and during prolonged periods of exercise in warm conditions replenishing with water alone is actually not sufficient. We must replenish with salt and mineral supplemented drinks - such as found certain sports drinks (beware of excess sugar!) or purpose electrolyte formulas.
A key symptom of extreme salt depletion would be nausea and vomiting
Treatment for heat exhaustion
- If the person is conscious try to get them to drink and replace fluids as soon as possible, in small doses
- Move to a cool location and try to apply cooling measures such as fanning the body
- Remove tight clothing if necessary to allow the skin to breathe and cool
- Contact medical services for further advice and support
This is the most severe type of heat injury when your body can no longer cool itself. This is a serious medical emergency and assistance should be sought immediately.
Symptoms can include nausea, seizures, severe disorientation and even loss of consciousness or coma are potential outcomes.
Depending on the situation heat stroke can occur rapidly with little forewarning making the situation more dangerous.
Treatment for heat stroke
- The most critical and urgent action is to call emergency services
- Do what is possible to lower body temperatures as described for heat exhaustion
Know the causes so you can prevent heat injuries
- Ensure adequate hydration, avoid alcohol before exercise in hot climates
- Younger persons need more time to adjust to warmer temperatures
- The less fit you are the longer your body will take to adapt to heat
- Bodies with higher fat percentages also take longer to cool themselves
- Diuretic and stimulant medications can increase the risk
- Dark clothing and worn equipment makes body cooling more difficult
- It is necessary to reduce the intensity and duration of your activity below your usual maximum
- Take regular rest periods
- Use sunscreen
- Avoid activity altogether during periods of unusually high temperatures for your region
- Don’t train alone in isolated areas
Further interesting information:
- Why trained athletes sweat more
- Cold drinks should reduce your sweat rate without compromising your ability to self-cool
Enjoy the warm sunny days and train safely.