(05/20/22) BATON ROUGE, La. — While summer has not technically started, the thermometer for many says it has already arrived. Staying properly hydrated and doing a few easy things can help you avoid medical issues associated with the heat.
Working outdoors or simply exercising can become problematic. Jessica Stroope, an LSU AgCenter physical activity specialist, said if your schedule allows, try to take care of outdoor chores and exercise early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is lower in the sky and the heat is less oppressive.
If your schedule is not flexible, it is important to recognize the differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
“If you are getting overheated, you’re getting toward heat exhaustion,” Stroope said. “You may feel dizzy. You may have excessive sweating, excessive fatigue. You want to slow down immediately and get to a cooler area — at least some shade, preferably inside with some air conditioning.”
Heat stroke is a much more dangerous condition, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it leads to 700 deaths a year in the U.S.
“Confusion is a sign of heat stroke,” Stroope said. “So if you’ve got dizziness and the confusion element, you need to seek emergency medical attention now.”
Drinking fluids during the day is important to staying properly hydrated. Stroope said it’s best to start drinking fluids as soon as you rise in the morning.
“In Louisiana, when you wake up in the morning, you’re actually starting at a deficit with your hydration,” she said. “So you want to drink water first thing. Have your coffee, sure, but drink some water before you go out into the heat.”
Foods commonly grown in Louisiana can provide some relief from the heat and help with hydration. Watermelon, blueberries and cantaloupes are good sources of water and nutrients, and when chilled, help provide a break from the heat.
According to Stroope, sports drinks can provide some nutrients that are lost during heavy sweating, but water should be your primary source of hydration.
“If it’s really hot outside, you’re losing some sodium and minerals,” Stroope said. “A sports drink can help you rebalance. But make sure you are hydrated with water beforehand.”
Even though many people from Louisiana are somewhat accustomed to the heat and humidity, it doesn’t mean they cannot suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Stroope recommends wearing loose, light-colored clothing and sunscreen when exposed to the sun. Prolonged exposure to the sun can lead to health problems in the future.
According to the CDC, skin-related cancers are the most common, with 1 in 5 Americans expected to be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer.
Construction workers building an apartment complex on West Parker Boulevard in Baton Rouge work under the hot sun. With temperatures running in the mid 90s, it is important to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Photo by Craig Gautreaux/LSU AgCenter
A chart produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrates the common signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Knowing how to react to these medical emergencies can mean the difference between life and death. Illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention