Avoiding heat related illness

The mercury is soaring and the humidex is making the temperature of 35C feel like 40C!

What can we do to cool down and avoid heat related illnesses such as dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Dehydration occurs when the body does not have enough fluids due to lack of intake or excess loss through excessive sweating.

Heat exhaustion is also called heat prostration. The symptoms include faintness, rapid pulse, nausea, profuse sweating, cool skin, and collapse. It is caused by prolonged exposure to heat accompanied by loss of adequate fluid and salt in the body mainly through excessive sweating.

Heat stroke occurs when there is a disruption in temperature regulating mechanisms of the body caused by overexposure to excessive heat. Symptoms are more severe than in heat exhaustion and include fever, hot and dry skin, and rapid pulse. Occasionally this leads to delirium and coma.

The best defense is prevention!

Stay hydrated: Don’t wait until you are thirsty. No matter how inactive you are be sure to drink fluids such as water, fruit juice or sports drinks to stay properly hydrated. Avoid alcoholic beverages which dehydrate you. Although very cold drinks are tempting they may cause stomach cramping.

Avoid the sun: Minimize activities outdoors to the early morning or late evening hours. Stay in the shade if outdoors as much as possible. Stay indoors during the heat of the day, preferably in an air conditioned building.

Cool down: For those without air conditioning make a trip to your local shopping mall or library. Spending a few hours in an air conditioned building helps lower your body temperature.

Use a fan. A fan provides some comfort but if temperatures exceed 30C a fan alone will not cool you properly. Use a washcloth to moisten your forehead and back then sit in front of the fan. You body temperature will lower as the water evaporates. Try placing a bowl of ice in front of the fan to blow cooler air on yourself. Better yet take a cool shower or bath to keep cool.

Wear light weight (preferably cotton), light colour, loose fitting clothing.

NEVER leave anyone in a closed parked, vehicle including pets. When it is 30C outside the temperature inside a car with the window slightly open can soar to 45C within 10 minutes. In 30 minutes temperatures reach 50C.

Although any one can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:

  • Infants and young children
  • People aged 65 or older
  • People who have a mental illness
  • Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

    Enjoy the hot weather!


    We’ve all experienced it. The feeling of frustration; like nothing is going right; nothing will ever be right again. Whether it is financial difficulties, your significant other, the kids or the boss, we have all experienced stress. We’ve all experienced it but what is stress really? What happens to our bodies during stressful periods?

    Stress can be defined as the pattern of how we respond to a stimulus that disturbs our equilibrium and taxes or exceeds our ability to cope. Stress is a fight-or-flight response to a situation. It is an autonomic response to a perceived danger or emergency. Our bodies enter a sympathetic state where our sympathetic nervous system creates increased activity in various body systems. An increase in metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and even muscle tension occurs. All of these things lead to that feeling of distress and unease.

    Any change in our lives can cause stress: a marriage, a death, a new baby, buying and moving into a new house, or even a new job. Good stress motivates us and challenges us. Bad stress, on the other hand, demoralizes us leaving us feeling over-burdened with a lack of motivation. How we respond to stress is the key to whether stress triggers are good or bad.

    Stress is divided into different stages according to Hans Selye, a Canadian endocrinologist who coined the term General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) to describe the physiological adaptations that occur in response to a continuing threat by almost any serious stressor.

    Stage 1 – Alarm reaction

    • increase in stress hormones excreted from the adrenal glands
    • physical symptoms include headache, fever, aching muscles and joints, fatigue, loss of appetite and feeling of being unwell
    • if the stressor is acute the body bounces back to its natural balance quickly
    • if the stressor is chronic the person enters the 2nd stage

    Stage 2 – Resistance / adaptation

    • symptoms from the 1st stage disappear due to developed “resistance”
    • physiological changes occur due to the slow increase in stress hormones such as altered glucose tolerance, blood pressure changes, thyroid and sex hormone changes
    • person experiences a reduced resistance to other stressors, even weak stressors can cause a strong reaction- this is the situation described as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”
    • excessive stress leads to the 3rd stage

    Stage 3 – Exhaustion

    • person can no longer maintain resistance
    • pituitary and adrenals cannot maintain production of hormones
    • symptoms from stage one reappear
    • degenerative diseases develop due to adverse influences of the stress hormones (which have been released since stage one)

    Being aware of our stress is the first step in combating it. There are various natural methods to combat stress and its symptoms.

    Lynne McNally B.Sc., N.D. is a licensed and registered Naturopathic Doctor. Treatments are covered by most extended health insurance plans. To book an appointment call 416-640-8477.

    This article originally appeared in the July 2010
    issue of Scarborough SNAP.