Water isn’t the flashiest drink option, that’s for sure. But it is essential for good health, especially during the summer heat. Unfortunately, researchers find that the majority of the population operates in a chronic state of dehydration. This can open the door to a variety of heat-related illnesses and health issues. Here, Hunterdon Health’s emergency care offers information on the most common heat-related illnesses, then shares some hydration and sun protection tips to help you stay safe and healthy this summer.

The three most common heat-related illnesses

Each of us can tolerate the heat differently, but these three common complications can derail your summer plans.

  • Heat exhaustion: It is the body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt. Heat exhaustion can affect anyone, but can be especially dangerous for the elderly, people with high blood pressure, and anyone working in a hot environment who sweats excessively. Symptoms can sneak up on you and signal that it’s time to slow down, find some shade, and rehydrate.
    • Symptoms: Headache, nausea, dizziness, thirst, irritability, profuse sweating, decreased urine and increased body temperature
  • heat cramps: If you work or exercise outside, you probably sweat a lot more this time of year. If you lose too much water and valuable electrolytes, muscles like your calves, abdomen, and other areas of your back can cramp up. Heat cramps can be a symptom of heat exhaustion and may require medical help if you have heart problems.
    • Symptoms: Muscle cramps, pale clammy skin, fever over 100.4°F, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, weakness, feeling anxious and fainting
Exercising in hot weather isn't completely off limits, but a plan to avoid heat cramps and other potential dangers is an absolute necessity.
  • Heatstroke: This is the most serious heat-related illness and the result of prolonged weather and physical activity in the heat. In many situations, your body temperature rises to 104˚F or more. Heatstroke is an emergency. If left untreated, it can damage the heart, kidneys, brain and muscles and lead to death.
    • Symptoms include: High temperature (over 104°F), altered mental state, nausea, vomiting, flushing of the skin, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, headache

Tips for avoiding heat-related illnesses

Protecting yourself from the sun and staying well hydrated can help prevent these heat stress conditions.

  • Start with the skin: SPF is the measure of solar energy required to produce a sunburn on unprotected skin. A sunscreen with an SPF30 or higher protects you from around 97% (or more) of the sun’s UVB rays (those most likely to cause skin cancer). Of course, covering your skin with hats, clothing, and wearing sunglasses is the best protection against direct sunlight.
  • Take a bottle with you (everywhere): Find a water bottle that’s right for you that can sit easily on your desk and in your car’s cup holders without tipping over or spilling. Your bottle should be your constant companion during the warm months. Recharge it throughout the day and know in advance how many refills are needed to reach your daily consumption goal.
Reusable water bottles have caught on for a reason - there's no more convenient and sustainable way to meet your daily hydration needs.
  • Start Tomorrow’s Hydration at Bedtime Tonight: Whether you’re aiming for half your body weight in ounces or another water intake goal, you can start your day off right the night before. Place an 8oz or 16oz glass or bottle of water on the nightstand before going to bed. When you wake up, make sure it’s the first thing you drink. Challenge yourself to consume it completely before coffee or tea, which can dehydrate some people.
  • Make water tasty and fun: If water is too boring for you, add mint leaves, cucumber, strawberry, lime, lemon, oranges or other slices or pieces of raw fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables also naturally contain high levels of water and are considered hydrating on their own.
  • Check your urine: It’s not the most pleasant subject, but the color of your urine says a lot about your level of hydration. A hydrated person’s urine is light yellow and pale in color. Darker urine can mean you are dehydrated and need to drink more water.

Hunterdon Health has served Hunterdon County and surrounding communities since 1953 and is committed to keeping community members of all ages safe throughout the summer and throughout the year. Hunterdon Health operates two urgent care centers in Flemington and Raritan. You can reserve your spot online or go directly to treatment.

To find out more visit,www.hunterdonurgentcare.com.