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Preventing Heat-Related Illness: When the Heat Is Too Hot to Handle

By By Geri K. Metzger, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
June 14, 2011, 10:43:52 AM EDT

How hot is it? It's so hot that your antiperspirant is on strike. Your clothes stick to you. The air conditioner and water cooler are your best friends.

With hot summer weather, you probably feel lethargic and sweaty, but still cope. Yet, when a heat wave hits, it's harder to cool off.

Overheating is a serious danger, and soaring temperatures take their toll.

Who's at risk? Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness. Young and old are at the greatest risk. This includes infants and children up to 4 years of age and people 65 years of age and older. Also at risk are those who are overweight, and people who are ill or on certain medications.

The bottom line is this: Prolonged exposure to high temperatures or problems with your your body's cooling system raises your risk for a heat-related illness such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

How our natural cooling system works Normally, heat escapes through the skin as sweat is evaporated (perspiration). This helps cool the skin, and more importantly, the body core. But in humid weather, sweating doesn't work as well. The air around you is already warm and heavy with humidity. It can't absorb extra heat and sweat from your body. So your body warms up. When your body can't compensate for the heat, you may suffer a heat-related illness.

Tips to stay cool in extreme heat.

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