Beating the Alabama Heat// Dr. Rachel Steiner

Summer is in full swing here in Tuscaloosa Alabama! Temperatures during the day are already in the mid-eighties and will only continue to rise for the next couple months. Although this means lots of fun and sun for many, this time of year can also be very dangerous as the temperatures easily reach triple digits at times. Every year, thousands of become sick from exposure to heat, and in serious cases can lead to death. In a recent five-year study in the United States, there were 2,239 reported deaths due to heat illnesses. Our bodies have the amazing ability to cool itself through sweating however, during hot weather especially with high humidity, sweating isn’t enough. Body temperature can rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. Heat illnesses range from heat rash, heat cramps to heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, which can be fatal. Immediate medical attention is needed when one suffers from one of these conditions. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to keep healthy and prevent heat related illnesses during the dog days of summer.


Get outdoor work done early in the day or in the evening

Between 10 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon are when the suns rays are most direct and powerful.  If you have to do work outside around the house such as gardening or mowing the lawn, try to do these things at dawn or as the sun starts to set to avoid the direct sun and dangerous temperatures.


Wear Sunscreen

Apply a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher whenever you’re outdoors. For children, it is recommended to use an SPF of 30 or higher. To achieve adequate UV protection you should use products that say broad-spectrum on them, which means protection against both UVB and UVA rays. When buying sunscreen look for products that contain ingredients such as avobenzone or zinc oxide, as they are the most effective in preventing rays from penetrating the skin. Remember that sunscreen doesn’t last all day! It should be reapplied every two hours, unless you are swimming or even sweating, in that case you should reapply every hour. The bottle will say how long the sunscreen is affective for and the frequency to reapply.


Keep Hydrated

In the summer months, when temperatures and humidity are higher than we’re used to, it is easy to become dehydrated. An easy rule to follow is to take your weight in pounds and that is how many ounces of water you should drink daily. For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, you should drink 100 ounces of water per day. However, if lots of time is spent outside in the sun and you are sweating, you should be drinking more. Add an extra 12 ounces of liquid for every 30 minutes of physical activity you do. When you sweat, your body not only releases fluid and toxins from your body, but electrolytes as well. Electrolytes regulate our nerve and muscle function, our body’s hydration, blood pH, blood pressure, and the rebuilding of damaged tissue. Various mechanisms exist in our body to keep the concentrations of different electrolytes under strict control. An easy way to prevent electrolyte imbalances is to drink sports drinks such as Gatorade or PowerAde or consume foods high in electrolytes such as bananas, spinach, and avocados. Remember if you are thirsty, that is an early warning signal from your body that you are already dehydrated.


Shade yourself whenever possible

Be aware the amount of sun you are exposing yourself to; use an umbrella or find a covered area such as an awning or tree to minimize direct rays.  Consider wearing a hat to protect your head and face and wear clothing that covers the skin but is lightweight and allows the skin to breath. They even have clothing now that have built in sunscreen and are lightweight to help keep you cool.


Keep in mind these suggestions to follow when enjoying the sun and all the activities that go along with it. Cheers to a happy and healthy Alabama summer!



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