For many people, it’s not a summer vacation without scorching temperatures and plenty of rays. But beware — those factors aren’t always a good thing. In fact, overexposure to summer swelter can lead to a malady known as heat exhaustion.
Just what is heat exhaustion? According to the Centers for Disease Control, heat exhaustion “can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.” Once your body temperature rises above 101 degrees, you are in danger of succumbing to the condition.
Heat exhaustion may set in more quickly while traveling, exacerbated by the dehydrating effects of plane travel, participation in strenuous, sweat-inducing activity, and being outside more than usual. Not increasing water intake while traveling (while increasing alcohol consumption) adds to the cocktail for the condition.
That said, while heat exhaustion often goes hand in hand with dehydration, the two conditions are not synonymous. One can have heat exhaustion without being dehydrated and vice versa. However, keeping hydrated at all times is always a good idea.
What are the factors contributing to heat exhaustion? It starts, of course, with heat and humidity (which, combined, make up the heat index). When the heat index is higher than normal body temperature, problems can set in. According to Dr. Kevin Carter, a primary care practitioner with the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, “In these conditions, the body can’t radiate heat into the atmosphere, nor can it sweat efficiently.”
Warning signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, cramping, and general weakness. Headache, dizziness and nausea may also set in. The CDC notes that since heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke if untreated, it’s important to seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last more than one hour.
What can one do when heat exhaustion strikes? Simply put...get out of the heat. Dr. Carter suggests immediately heading to shade or, better yet, an air-conditioned place. Douse yourself with cold water or ice. He also recommends drinking cold liquids, shedding excess clothing and elevating the feet.
To fend off heat exhaustion before it hits, consider these tips:
The CDC suggests that “air conditioning is the strongest protective factor against heat-related illness. Exposure to air conditioning for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk for heat-related illness.”
Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. In the hot sun, a wide-brimmed hat will provide shade and keep the head cool.
Take it easy the first day or two after landing in hot, humid climates.
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and continue to re-apply while in the sun. Sunburn affects the body’s ability to cool itself, and can cause loss of body fluids, both of which can contribute to the onset of heat exhaustion.
Drink more water than usual beginning a week out from your trip, particularly if it involves air travel. On location, drink water throughout the day. Better yet, as you hydrate, alternate between water and liquids taken with electrolytes. This strategy can help fend off both dehydration and salt depletion.
If it’s hot outside, stay inside. If you must be outside, avoid the sun’s peak hours. In between trips outside, indulge in air conditioning.
If you do end up with a case of heat exhaustion that requires medical care, the good news is that your Allianz Travel Insurance plan likely will cover associated costs. That’s why the best advice for those traveling to hot climates is purchase travel insurance beforehand, just in case.
Laura Powell is a travel expert based in Washington, DC. You can read more on her blog: The Daily Suitcase.