If you’re a fan of the TV show ‘Survivor’, you’ve probably seen some of the strongest contestants across seasons get toppled down by one common foe: the heat.
In these scenarios, they’re doing intricate, muscle-exerting challenges in places with high temperatures like Cambodia and Brazil. But heatstroke—the frequent cause of medical evacuations for Survivor competitors—is becoming more and more common among everyday folks as temperatures soar around the world.
On July 6th, 2023, the earth experienced its hottest day on record. Europe has been having record heat waves each summer. In the western US and Hawaii, forests blaze as temperatures rise. People everywhere are feeling the effects of increased temperatures with more cases of heatstroke.
Heatstroke is typically caused by being outdoors in very hot or humid weather—but it can also happen indoors. It occurs when your core body temperature reaches over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s important to note that heatstroke is a medical emergency and immediate medical attention is needed for someone experiencing heatstroke.
But how can you know if you’re just feeling a bit hot, or nearing heatstroke? What are the signs to look for, and ways to prevent it? Read on…
First, you should know that there are two different types of heatstroke.
The first is called exertional heatstroke. This is caused by conducting laborious physical activity outside in the heat. Exertional heatstroke is like the Survivor example listed above.
The second is called non-exertional or classic heatstroke, and it can be caused by exposure to high temperature over the course of many hours, or even days. Generally, it affects older populations or people with illnesses like diabetes.
In either case, heatstroke leads to a shutdown of bodily organs. If medical attention is not received, heatstroke can lead to death.
Depending on the type of heatstroke, the symptoms can come on seemingly out of nowhere, or gradually over time. These are the symptoms to be mindful of in the heat:
- Dizziness, headaches, and nausea
- Rapid pulse and breathing
- Feeling very dehydrated and extremely thirsty
- Disorientation and loss of balance
- Irrational behavior
- Nausea and vomiting
- High fever (above 103)
- Minimal urine or dark urine output
- Physical collapse and coma
If children are demonstrating these symptoms, it is important to receive medical attention with even more immediacy, as child cases can progress much faster.
Essentially, if you’re hot, sweaty, and cranky—chances are you’re just in the heat. If your consciousness starts to change and you feel your body responding in ways atypical to how you normally feel in the heat, and you start feeling ill, it’s time to cool yourself down in the AC or with cold compresses and seek medical attention ASAP.
It’s important to prepare and care for yourself before you or your loved ones get near the place of heatstroke. There are simple ways you can avoid overheating in the increasingly hotter summer months, and we’ve listed 5 of them below:
1. Hydrate often and eat hydrating food
The first one is obvious: drink enough water. If you’re outside for long stretches of time sweating frequently, then an electrolyte drink is even better. I like this one as it’s low in sugar.
You can also opt for hydrating foods like watermelon, lettuce, cucumber, celery, and spinach which are mostly water. How about adding a slice of watermelon to your glass of water for a refreshing drink?
Your appetite may decrease in the heat because your body is working to keep your temperature low, so it’s important to eat on your normal schedule, and choose hydrating foods.
2. Dress for (cool) success
You know not to wear a sweater in the summer. But there are other outfit hacks you can use to help you stay cool!
You’ll want to opt for light colored clothing, as darker clothes absorb more sunlight and will increase your body temperature. Loose-fitting clothing is also better!
Generally, linen or cotton are the best materials to be wearing in the sun. They’re light and breathable, which decreases the amount your body will sweat and dehydrate.
For evenings, look for thin, breathable PJs and cooling bedsheets (and you can ditch the blanket). Here’s a set of sheets to consider:
3. Work out smarter, not hotter
Going for a run at noon isn’t a good idea. If you work out outside, do so in the morning or evenings if temperatures cool significantly during those times where you live. If it’s still 80-90 degrees in the evening, it’s probably better to opt for a run in an air-conditioned gym on the treadmill rather than pushing through a muggy jog.
After you exercise, try taking a cold shower to immediately lower your body temperature. It’s particularly important to cool your arms and legs after exercising, as they play a more active role in regulating your body temperature. Cold showers are also great for regulating your nervous system and reducing stress!
4. Homemade heat hacks
A few other ideas to consider for instant cooling:
- Put a few pairs of socks in the freezer and put them on when you’re feeling hot or overheated
- Start storing your sun products in the fridge! Sunscreens, aloe, and face mists will then go on cool
- Fill your thermos with crushed ice before a beach day—keeping your ice cool all day and working as an ice pack!
- Freeze bottles of water if you’re low on ice packs
5. Keep your pulse points cool
Lastly, keeping areas like your head, neck, and wrists cool can go very far in keeping your blood pressure regulated in hot weather. If you’re at a restaurant, put some ice water on these areas, or run them under a faucet with cool water. We’re in the peak of summer, so it may be impossible to escape the hot weather. Be on the lookout for any signs of heatstroke in yourself or others, and try these prevention tips so you don’t become a victim of the heat.