There are sports – and then there are extreme sports. One sport little known in the United States are sauna competitions. For a country that is usually quite cold, seeing how long you can sit in an extremely hot and moist room may seem strange, but in Finland it is all the rage. Unfortunately it also turned deadly for one of its contestants in August 2010, as a man collapsed and died in the 230ºF temperatures. Another competitor was rushed to the hospital, bleeding from severe burns over most of his body.
While most of us would not willingly put ourselves into that kind of heat for any length of time, even milder temperatures can be dangerous – especially for the very old, very young, or those with health problems. Whether enjoying summer activities, getting in a work-out, or in the elements as you escape the aftermath of TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it), understanding that protection from heat can be as vital to your survival as food or water could save your life.
What is Hyperthermia?
Hyperthermia technically refers to a whole category of heat-related illnesses including:
● heat exhaustion
● heat stroke
● heat cramps
● heat rash
While all of these conditions have some variation in how to treat them, the basics are all the same and prevention is simple – don’t get too hot.
On a basic level, staying cool is a simple idea, though sometimes it is difficult to achieve depending on the circumstances. Take whatever measures you can in order to avoid succumbing to one or more of the manifestations of hyperthermia.
● Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. While it is possible to drink too much water, this is rare. The more common malady is chronic dehydration by most of the population of the United States. Drinking a gallon or more per person on a hot day is not overdoing it at all.
● Avoid extremely cold drinks, as these can cause cramping.
● Do not consume alcohol or caffeinated beverages as these are diuretics that will cause you to lose fluid more quickly.
● Replace salts and minerals you lose through sweating by drinking juice or a sports-type beverage.
● During normal circumstances, you should seek cool air either in your own home, or by going to the store, library, or other place with air conditioning. In a survival situation do whatever you can to minimize exposure to heat and sun. Find a shaded area and avoid physical exertion during the hottest part of the day.
● Don’t overdo it. If you are feeling hot and tired when working out or playing, take a break and cool down.
● Use sunscreen.
● Dress appropriately in light-colored and light-weight loose clothing. Linen and cotton are much cooler than synthetic fibers.
● Prioritize health all the time. If you are overweight, dehydrated, or in poor physical fitness, then the effects of extreme heat will be much worse.
● Be extra mindful of children in the heat. They easily get distracted with their play and may not think to take preventative measures (like stopping regularly to drink water) without some assistance from adults.
● When carrying an infant or baby, make sure they are not over bundled or in a baby carrier that does not allow good air circulation.
● Never leave children alone in a vehicle or other enclosed space – even for just a few minutes.
● Avoid spicy foods or eating really heavy greasy foods as these both will raise your body temperature.
Sunburn is probably the easiest form of hyperthermia to spot, as skin turns pink and then red. By the time your skin is starting to color though, the damage is already done, so prevention is key. For other forms of hyperthermia look for the following symptoms:
● Red, hot, dry skin without sweating.
● Excessive sweating.
● Cool, moist, pale skin.
● Feeling faint or dizzy.
● Elevated core body temperature (fever) – at 105 degrees or more brain damage can occur, so act right away.
● Being extremely thirsty.
● Confusion, aggressive or strange behavior.
● Strong and rapid pulse.
● Nausea, headache, and/or fatigue.
● Seizures, fainting, or unconsciousness.
Since the symptoms can be so varied, be alert, and if anything just does not seem right, be sure to assess whether overheating could be the cause.
Just as there are a variety of symptoms based on what type of hyperthermia is being expressed, treatment varies depending on the condition. Still, there are some general things that will always help. Basically, get cool again!
● If core temperature is extremely elevated, the person affected is confused or delirious, or attempts to treat at home are not working, do not hesitate to seek medical attention. For severe sunburn or heat stroke, you may need the intravenous fluids and other treatments that only a medical facility can provide.
● Cool down with cool drinks (as noted above, do not drink alcohol or caffeine).
● Get in a shower, bath, or even just spray off with a hose.
● Wear wet clothing, or cover with damp sheets or blankets, and use a fan to blow over the person. Note: this will not work very well if the air itself is extremely humid since there will be nowhere for the air to evaporate to.
● Be as still as possible and rest. Avoid any kind of additional exertion that would lead to more heat being produced.
● Even after your body returns to normal, wait at least another hour before returning to activity so that you do not re-heat again.
● Treat sunburn like you would any other burn. Apply cold compresses or run cool water over affected areas. Use aloe vera gel (100% gel only, or directly from the plant), or apply non-greasy lotions. Do not use butter, cream, or other ointments as these can trap heat in the skin and worsen the burn.
Heat is no laughing matter. It is easy to feel macho because of what we are able to endure, but push the limit too far and, as we saw in the Finnish sauna competition, the price may be too great. Careful planning, thinking ahead, and being realistic with expectations of ourselves and other can ensure that everyone is able to enjoy the heat every day, and survive the heat in an emergency.