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Published on June 14, 2016

Stay cool for summer: Heat, dehydration pose serious risks in Lawrence

Medical professionals say staying hydrated is extremely important in the hot months of summer.

Medical professionals say staying hydrated is extremely important in the hot months of summer.

By Mackenzie Clark

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

“We think about putting a human animal in a really, really hot environment, they're not gonna survive as long as they would in a cold environment, typically, because the heat is harder on the body,” Drees said. “So you do have to watch because you can die from heat exposure; you can die from heat stroke.”

Get the right gear for high heat

Though the heat can be dangerous in high doses, you shouldn’t let it keep you inside on the couch all summer. J. Jenkins, co-owner of Ad Astra Running at 16 E. Eighth St. in Lawrence, provided several tips for fitness clothing for hotter days.

• Avoid cotton T-shirts and shorts: Cotton will get wet with sweat and start to get heavy, weighing you down and making you uncomfortable. There are plenty of options, such as rayon, spandex, polyester, merino wool and some proprietary materials, that are manufactured specifically for the purpose of staying cool. Look for clothing that is “moisture-wicking” — Jenkins said most brands have their own name for this feature, such as Nike’s “Dri-FIT” — and will allow sweat to evaporate more quickly.

• Look for loose and light:Looser-fitting clothing will allow for better circulation and allow your skin to “breathe,” Jenkins said, which will help to prevent chafing. Light-colored clothing will reflect more sunlight.

• Sweatbands, hats and sunglasses help: Nothing will ruin a nice run faster than the sting of sweat in your eyes, Jenkins said, so he recommends sweatbands. It’s important to wear a visor or sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun for multiple reasons — one, Jenkins said, is because squinting for the duration of your run will translate into fatigue. By keeping your facial muscles clenched, you’ll also be clenching muscles in your neck, shoulders and arms.

• Stay cool head to toe: Moisture-wicking socks will help prevent blisters, and shoes with mesh uppers will add more breathability.

• Quench on the go: It’s important to stay hydrated for your workout, as well as any other time outdoors. Fitness stores have water bottles that you can carry during a run without hindering your performance.

• Don’t forget your skin: Jenkins suggests sunscreens specifically formulated for active use, so they won’t lose effectiveness because of sweat. He also recommends a product called Body Glide, available at sporting goods stores, that helps protect from chafing and prevents blisters.

High temperatures in the forecast are in the 90s and not dropping anytime soon, which naturally increases the risk of heat-related illness.

“We are going to be at an increased risk (for the season), and a town like Lawrence, Kansas, is going to be specifically at an increased risk due to our heat and humidity conditions,” Drees said. “It can be pretty uncomfortable in Lawrence during the summer.”

The most obvious sign of dehydration is the appearance of one’s urine.

“As much as you may not want to hear about it, if a person is peeing out clear urine that means they're hydrated; if it's really dark yellow or brown, it means that they're dehydrated, or not peeing at all,” said Dr. Lee Norman, chief medical officer at Kansas University Hospital.

Drees said it varies on a case-by-case basis — his advice may not apply to people with certain medical conditions, and it’s important to check with your own physician — but the kidneys are usually a good way to tell if you’re hydrated enough. He also said nausea and muscle cramps are a good indication of dehydration and too much heat.

Norman said he thinks people forget how easy it is to get dehydrated, and it’s important to have rehydrating beverages on hand at home, such as Pedialyte for children and Gatorade for adults.

“People can be down 2 to 3 liters of fluids without even realizing it,” he said. “They start getting grumpy and headachey, and lo and behold, when they drink a quart or two of Gatorade they’re magically revived.”

Drees said most Americans overconsume salt, so in general, electrolyte loss through dehydration isn’t a major issue. He suggested half-strength Gatorade, or following each bottle of a sports drink with a bottle or two of water.

Also, sip, don’t gulp — rapid water intake can shock the stomach and make it regurgitate or resist the water, Drees said. Typically, intravenous fluids aren’t necessary for dehydration, but if you can’t hold the water down, they may be required.

Beyond dehydration, prolonged exposure to hot temperatures and high levels of humidity can cause heat exhaustion. Drees said common symptoms of that include dizziness, decreased mentation, sleepiness, feelings of weakness and lassitude, nausea or vomiting, decreased appetite and a general feeling of being hot.

At that point, it’s a good idea to move out of direct sunlight and under shade, or better yet, into an air-conditioned environment or in front of a fan, Drees said.

Another idea is to use ice packs on pulse points, such as the wrists or neck, or run your wrists under the cold stream of a drinking fountain. Moving someplace cooler and sipping water will typically help resolve these symptoms fairly quickly.

However, serious overexposure to the heat can also cause heat stroke. If a patient becomes unresponsive or loses consciousness, it’s time to call 911, Drees said. At that danger point, a patient might also stop sweating and their skin will become dry — another sign to seek medical help immediately.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department suggests checking on friends or neighbors, and especially the elderly.

“Social isolation is one of the main risk factors for heat-related illness and death,” the department advised in a civic alert.

The very young and the very old are most susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, Drees said, partially because of sensory abilities. The elderly have lost some of those abilities, and kids outside having fun don’t sense the heat — that means it’s especially important for those in the middle to keep an eye on them and mind their safety.

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