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Signs Of Heat Illness

The author well into the upper limits of heat exhaustion. Only 100 in the shade.
The author well into the upper limits of heat exhaustion. Only 100 in the shade.

Knowing the early signs of heat illness and taking action can help prevent the progression to life threatening conditions. If you push a little too hard, don’t eat or drink enough or just pushed the envelope on the time of day you trained, I have listed below some of the common heat related illnesses and initial treatments for each.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are an early indication that you are exercising at an intensity that you are not adapted to for the temperature. Symptoms of heat cramps are cramping in the muscle groups used during exercise. Treatment for heat cramps includes: remove person from the hot environment and loosen tight fitting clothing, rest cramping muscles, rehydrate until cramping ceases and snack on foods high in electrolytes including sodium and potassium.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a progression of heat illness in which the body loses significant amounts of fluid and electrolytes because of heavy sweat loss and inability of the cardiovascular system to compensate for the increased exertion level. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include: headaches, dizziness, cool and moist skin, rapid pulse, shallow breathing and cramps. Treatment involves moving to shade/air conditioned environment and loosen any tight clothing, especially on the face and neck. Have the affected person lie down, rest, drink water and eat foods high in electrolytes. Cool the body with fanning, wetting clothes, etc.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a life threatening condition of severe hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) caused by excessive exposure to natural or artificial heat. Symptoms of heat stroke include: rapid pulse, altered mental status, extreme body heat with little or no sweating, unconsciousness and dry skin. Treatment for heat stroke includes aggressive, immediate cooling of patient, including moving to shade, remove excess clothing, pouring water onto head and torso, and fanning. This is a severe medical condition, send someone for help while continuing cooling.

Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia is caused by high water intake, low sodium intake and high electrolyte loss through sweating, causing a drop in blood sodium levels. Symptoms of hyponatremia are frequent urination, high water intake with little salty food, headache, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps. Treatment for hyponatremia includes eating salty food, and evacuate if mental status decreases.

A bit of prevention and training strategy can keep you healthy and on track. Stay hydrated, fueled and rest often in the summer!

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Training In The Heat

So happy to be at Phantom Creek after a brutal hike across Utah Flats in the Grand Canyon on the approach to climb Isis Temple.
So happy to be at Phantom Creek after a brutal hike across Utah Flats in the Grand Canyon on the approach to climb Isis Temple.

The human body is an amazing machine that is capable of adapting to a variety of extreme environments. From a physiological perspective, heat stress has the potential to develop into a life threatening condition rapidly if you fail to adjust your training program. It is far safer to progress slowly as summer temperatures rise and prevent heat related illnesses than having to recover from one. Try incorporating the following tips into your training strategy to prepare for training in the heat.

Avoid training between 10AM and 4PM outside

The majority of heat related illnesses occur during these hours. Training in the direct sunlight can also increase the temperature by 15-20 degrees or more. Your body is simply incapable of sustaining high intensity under these conditions. Time your training/movement around these hours. One of our favorite tactics in the desert is to do a dawn patrol, starting  by headlamp and trying to finish by 10am.

Avoid training when temperature is above 90F and 60% humidity

Increases in humidity negatively affect the bodies’ ability to cool itself through perspiration. When the humidity levels exceed 60%, sweat evaporates at a slower rate causing the body to retain heat.

Take the time to acclimatize

Acclimatization is vitally important when training in environments hotter than you are accustomed to. Allow at least 10-14 days to acclimate to increased heat and exertion levels. Studies have shown that bodies adapting gradually to elevated heat and training intensity can dramatically lower electrolyte loss through sweat and becoming more efficient at managing internal hydration levels.

Lower your intensity

Decrease intensity when training, especially during the acclimatization period. Hydration losses can greatly exceed the bodies’ ability to absorb water. Lowering intensity decreases these losses and can help prevent heat related illnesses.

Wear the right clothing for training in the heat

Wear light weight, light colored and loose fitting clothing. If your training brings you near a water source, SOAK your clothes and body to shed heat and speed the evaporative cooling process.

Training in the heat is possible if you are willing to make some modifications to your normal training routine. Prevention of heat illness should take priority over intensity of training during these times. I strongly encourage you to apply these simple guidelines to your training in hot environments. It can mean the difference between recovering at home or in the emergency room. Be safe out there this summer.

Related Article: Signs Of Heat Illness