Living Well

How to stay safe from the Louisiana heat

James Aiken, MD
How to stay safe from the Louisiana heat

What causes a heat stroke?

We know a thing or two about heat here in Louisiana, but when your body is exposed to a hot, humid, and sunny environment for an extended period of time without water and cooling, it can rapidly lead to heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly. If left untreated, it can progress to heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness. Heat stroke, which happens when the body’s heat-regulating system is overwhelmed, is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate attention.

What are the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion?

Signs of Heat Exhaustion

  • Excessive sweating
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Cramps, leg pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Fainting

Signs of Heat Stroke

  • High body temperature (103 degrees or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache, dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness

Who’s most at risk?

While heat-related illness can happen to anyone, those who are older, younger, and/or overweight have a higher chance of experiencing heat related illnesses and should take extra caution if they plan to be outside for a long time.

Certain medications could also make you more at risk, so make sure you talk to your doctor about the side effects of all medications you are on, especially if you know you’ll be outside a lot.

We know it’s the time of year for outdoor activities, so whether you’re running in the park or doing yard work, make sure to stay hydrated and stay in the shade as much as possible.

Those who work outdoors should also make sure they’re staying hydrated throughout the day and taking breaks in the shade or air-conditioned areas often.

If you have family or neighbors who are more at risk, try to check-in on them to see if they need anything and are staying safe in the heat.

How can I prevent heat-related illnesses?

If you are at high risk for a heat-related illness, try your best to avoid hot, humid, and sunny areas. If you have to spend time outside in the sun, make sure to take frequent breaks in the shade or an air-conditioned area.

Your wardrobe is also important. Make sure to wear loose fitting clothing that does not fall close to or stick to your body will help keep your body cooler. Wearing lighter colored clothing that does not draw in a lot of sunlight can also help keep you cool.

One of the biggest preventatives of heat-related illnesses is drinking plenty of water, before, during, and after being outside. The water does not have to be very cold, but it should not contain a lot sugar that could be found in water flavoring packets and enhancers.

"If you wait to be thirsty when you're outside in this kind of heat, you've waited way too long," said Dr. Aiken.

You should also avoid alcohol if you will be outside for an extended period of time, especially if you’re more at risk.

How do I treat heat-related illnesses?

If you think a loved one is experiencing a heat-related illness, immediately do the following:

  • Move the person to shaded, ventilated, or climate-controlled area
  • Provide the person with fluids, preferably water
  • Place a sponge or rag in cool water and then apply it to the persons armpit and groin

If the person is confused, unable to stand, or their condition does not get better within an hour, call 911 and seek emergency medical care immediately.

Test your knowledge on heat stroke and heat exhaustion by taking the Heat Stroke Quiz.