10 Essential Facts About Heat and Your Health


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In all weather conditions, the body works hard to maintain a normal temperature of 98.6 degrees. When temperatures are drastic, whether it’s a scorching summer day or a frigid winter morning, it can be even more difficult for your body to maintain this ideal temperature.

“Even at rest, the human body produces a lot of heat energy,” says Eric Buete, MD, medical director of AFC/Doctors Express in Sarasota, Florida. When it’s cool, your body will expel this heat through radiation. “The heat simply radiates from the body to the surrounding air,” explains Dr. Buete.

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When it’s hot, your body sweats to keep you cool. Perspiration comes to the surface of your skin. As it evaporates, you begin to feel cooler. When it’s humid outside, it’s harder for the perspiration on the surface of your skin to evaporate because the air is already saturated with moisture. That’s why people often say it’s not the heat, but the humidity that makes it unbearable to be outside on a hot day — but both play a role in your body’s overheating.

What You Need to Know

Here are 10 important facts about heat and your health:

1. Extreme heat is dangerous. In a typical year, as many as 175 Americans die from extreme heat, according to the National Weather Service.

2. Men sweat more than women. While women have more sweat glands, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, men’s sweat glands are more active, leading them to sweat more. The more you sweat, the more easily you can become dehydrated, which can lead to other health issues, Buete says.

3. People have about 4 million sweat glands throughout their bodies, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society. There are two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Both produce fluids. The area of the brain known as the hypothalamus controls your body temperature by regulating sweat output and blood flow to the skin. The foul odor associated with sweat comes from the apocrine glands found in the armpits and genital region; the sweat from these glands produces a smell when it comes in contact with bacteria on the skin.

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4. Heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats. Warning signs of heat exhaustion include: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, heavy sweating, and headache. To treat heat exhaustion, it’s important to move to a cool location, drink lots of water, and soak in a cool bath or use cool compresses.

5. Being overheated can lead to heat stroke, which can be serious and life-threatening. Heat stroke can occur when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees; at this point, your body cannot regulate temperature on its own, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Signs you may be having heat stroke include muscle cramping, fast heart beat, vomiting, flushed skin, headache, and mental confusion. Call 911 if you see someone experience these symptoms. As with heat exhaustion, someone experiencing heat stroke should be moved to a cooler place and cooled down with a bath of cool water or compresses.

6. You can protect yourself from heat stroke by staying hydrated. “Drink before you are thirsty,” Buete says. In extreme heat, it’s best to avoid caffeine and alcohol, the American Academy of Family Physicians advises. Wear loose clothing that allows the air to circulate around you when exercising, and avoid exercising outdoors during the hottest part of the day, which is from 11 a.m. to 64 p.m. Instead, schedule your workout as close to sunrise or sunset as possible.

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7. Infants and small children are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses for several reasons, Buete says. They can’t control their environment (if they’re left in a room that is hot, for example); they have a high metabolic rate, which means their bodies are producing heat constantly; and they aren’t able to perspire as sufficiently as adults, Buete says. Never leave a child in a parked car, even with the windows open.

8. Others at higher risk for heat-related illness include those who are morbidly obese, the elderly, and people who are immobile, Buete says. People with diabetes can be heat sensitive, too, says Matthew Corcoran, MD, of APG Endocrinology in Egg Harbor, New Jersey. “If you have diabetes and you become dehydrated from the heat, it can affect your blood-sugar levels,” says Dr. Corcoran. Be sure to keep insulin and other diabetes medications out of the heat, as hot temperatures can ruin them, he adds. People with multiple sclerosis may also find that their symptoms worsen when they’re hot. When heat raises a person’s body temperature, it becomes harder for the central nervous system to work properly.

9. Some medications can put you at an increased risk for heat stroke as well, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. These include allergy medicines or antihistamines, blood pressure and heart medications, diuretics, laxatives, antidepressants, and seizure medications. Talk to your doctor about what precautions you should take if you’re taking any of these.

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10. About 3 percent of the population has hyperhidrosis, a condition characterized by overactive sweat glands, which cause profuse sweating, according to The Center for Sweat Disorders at Johns Hopkins Medicine. The often-embarrassing condition can be inherited or caused by other health conditions or medications, and can occur without a trigger from heat. Treatments for hyperhidrosis include oral and topical medications, Botox injections, as well as a procedure that uses electricity to turn off the sweat glands. If these treatments are not effective, your doctor may consider surgery.

This article originally appeared on EverydayHealth.com: 10 Essential Facts About Heat and Your Health

By Beth W. Orenstein, Everyday Health Contributor


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