With temperatures nearing almost 100 degrees, it's safe to say that summer is here and the heat is sweltering. Although laying by the pool or the beach and enjoying the outdoors might be relaxing and healthy, too much sun exposure can cause a number of health complications and even lead to death. This week and throughout the weekend, the east coast is expected to hit temperatures in the high 90s. News outlets and meteorologists are warning people to take extra safety precautions before they step into the sun. Heat is one of the biggest causes of weather-related deaths.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was an average of 618 heat-exposure related deaths per year from 1999 to 2010, and 68 percent of those deaths were among males. In August 2003, the highest reported number of deaths-by-heat was seen in Europe; an estimated 50,000 lives were claimed.

The ways in which the human body deals with heat are by breathing and sweating. The problem with sweating is that the only way for it to be effective in cooling down someone's body is when the sweat has the ability to evaporate. When the body loses the ability to cool down and the person's sweat can no longer evaporate, the core body temperature increases and can cause someone to get heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Heat Stroke

This is the most serious of all the heat-related illnesses, and it happens when a person's body is unable to control body temperature. It occurs when someone is exposed to extreme heat, when he or she is not accustomed to high temperatures. Some of the symptoms are similar to an actual stroke, such as low blood pressure, blue lips and nails, cool and clammy skin, profuse sweating, hallucinations, chill, throbbing headache, high body temperature, confusion, dizziness, and slurred speech. Heat stroke can lead to a number of complications. The rise in body temperate could cause a person's organs to swell, and the damage from the swollen organs could be permanent.

In the case of a person suspected of having a heat stroke, the CDC recommends the following:

1. Call 9-1-1. 2. Move the sick person to a cool area. 3. Cool the person down by soaking his clothes with water, spraying him with water, or fanning his body.

 

Heat Cramps

These are painful and involuntary muscle spasms that are usually triggered when a person is working out in a hot environment. The cause of this is inadequate fluid intake and can be avoided by working out in a well air-conditioned or cool space, and by staying hydrated. The most affected muscles are calves, arms, abdominals, and back, but heat cramps can extend to any muscle group. According to Mayo Clinic, if you suspect that you might be having a heat cramp, you should do the following:

1. Rest briefly and cool down. 2. Drink clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink. 3. Practice gentle, range-of-motion stretching as well as a gentle massage of the affected muscle group. 4. Don't resume strenuous activity for several hours or longer, until after heat cramps go away. 5. Call your doctor if your cramps don't go away within one hour or so.

Sun Burn

The skin uses the sunlight to produce vitamin D, which is an important nutrient for calcium absorption. However, too much sun exposure, especially on a frequent basis and without the use of sunscreen, can sometimes cause irreversible harm to your skin. Using sunscreens and avoiding direct exposure to the sun can prevent your skin from becoming sunburned and from the possibility of developing skin cancer later. Sunburn is caused when the body's protective pigment, melanin, is not able to protect your skin from the exposure. This varies from person-to-person, depending on the color of someone's skin. The first signs of sunburn might not appear until after a few hours. In the event that you think you have a sunburn, the National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends the following:

1. Try taking a cool shower or bath. 2. Avoid products that contain benzocaine, lidocaine, or petroleum. 3. If blisters are present, dry bandages may help prevent infection. 4. If your skin is not blistering, moisturizing cream may be applied to relieve discomfort. 5. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen may help to relieve pain from sunburn (for adults, not children). 6. Cortisone creams may help reduce the inflammation. 7. Loose cotton clothing should be worn.

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Heat Exhaustion

This type of heat illness is caused by two factors: water depletion or salt depletion. And it's most common in athletes. Heat exhaustion is caused by extreme sweating and results in weight loss. The body isn't able to cool itself down, and as heat exhaustion sets in, perspiration decreases, and the skin and core body temperatures rises to 104 degrees. Symptoms of heat exhaustion by water depletion are excessive thirst, weakness, and headache. Salt depletion has the same symptoms, but occurs when water isn't enough and when there is loss in the natural salt and minerals in a persons' body. Drinks with electrolytes are especially important to protect this type of heat exhaustion. Athletes or anyone that is going to be rigorously active outdoors should drink not only water, but also sports drinks. The American Academy for Orthopedic Surgeons recommends:

1. Move the person to a cool, shaded area. 2. Remove tight clothing. 3. Give fluids, if the person or athlete is conscious. 4. Apply active cooling measures, such as a fan or ice towels, if the core temperature is elevated. 5. Refer to a physician to assess the needs of fluid/electrolyte replacement and for further medical attention, especially if nausea and vomiting are present.

Heat Rash

This is a rash that looks like small red bumps, and it's caused by sweat glands being blocked. This is more common in tropical and humid climates, and is usually seen in infants, although adults can get heat rashes as well. The best way to prevent heat rashes is to wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothing and to stay in well-cooled or air-conditioned spaces. The Mayo Clinic recommends:

1. Calamine lotion to soothe itching 2. Anhydrous lanolin, which may help prevent duct blockage and stop new lesions from forming 3. Topical steroids in the most serious cases