It’s the height of summer and time for great hikes. But it’s also time that heat-related illness can affect you while exerting yourself in hot temperatures.
The two heat-related illnesses one needs to look out for are heat exhaustion and sunstroke. Heat exhaustion can be managed on the trail, but sunstroke is a life-threatening emergency where the hiker must get to a hospital.
Heat Exhaustion can occur in hot, humid temperatures when the body becomes depleted of fluids necessary to cool itself - (severe dehydration). There may be heat cramps involved. The skin may be pale, cool, clammy, the hiker slightly anxious, pulse and breathing are basically normal. However, if the hiker is not cooled down, it can advance to the life threatening sunstroke as the core body temperature begins to rise.
Seek rest in a shady, cool spot. Sometimes resting on rocks that are in the shade or beside stream beds are cool. Or find an area next to water or in a wet environment. Breezes can also help you cool down by allowing convection to happen. Drink! – Especially replace lost salt and water. Having an electrolyte type mix in your hiker bag is crucial to helping replace sodium and potassium lost during sweating. Gatorade is also a favorite choice. When you get to town, eating a banana helps with heat and muscle cramping due to imbalances.
Sunstroke occurs when the mechanism to keep yourself cool begins to fail and your internal body temperature rises. Your skin becomes red, hot and dry. You can become disoriented, confused, and irritable. Your heart rate is rapid and there may be a seizure. Cool immediately by immersing into a cold stream or river or pouring water over the body. Give fluids if still awake and you can massage limbs to draw out the heat. Call for help.
How to prevent heat-related illnesses from happening on a hike:
- Take frequent rest breaks in cool, shady areas
- Drink plenty of water and eat salty foods. Carry electrolyte replacement granules to add to water. Be sure to carry plenty of water in desert environments. You can also over drink and deplete your sodium levels, leading to other potentially harmful conditions. When you drink, don't overdo it either! And NO Alcohol which can lead to quicker dehydration.
- Wear lightweight clothing and light colors. Wear a lightweight hat. Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
- Carry maps and guidebooks so you know where the water sources are. If you pass a source, no matter what, fill up. You can also collect water off your tent, etc. during storms. Check for areas too where you can take a dip and cool off.
- Never go off on a hike, no matter how short it is, without water.
- Carry adequate means to filter your water
- Use common sense, if you are prone to heat related illness, choose a different location or wait for a better time to hike (such as early AM or late PM)
- Carry a phone for emergencies and hike with a buddy
- If you feel hot, dry, your urine output is low, that means you are severely dehydrated and your core body temp is rising. Especially if you STOP sweating when you should be. That means DANGER. Stop immediately, rest, and rehydrate.