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Saturday, June 21, 2014

7 Tips for Avoiding Heat Exhaustion on Vacation

It's the first day of summer. And while most of you are preparing for the season's fun and sun, I want to give you a head's up about the very real dangers of heat exhaustion.

In Tiananmen Square before the fall
When it comes to this topic, I am quite the expert. I have ended up in the hospital for heat exhaustion and dehydration four times (after the first time you are felled by heat exhaustion, you are a more likely candidate for encore performances)  Details here. The most recent incident happened in Beijing. It occurred on Day 3 in China. Day 1 included a fourteen-hour flight from the US of A. Day 2 included a climb up the Great Wall. All resulting in Day 3, which included a visit to the pavement-laden Forbidden City in the smog and 90 degree heat, followed by a trip to the ER for an IV.

Even if you are not traveling to exotic climes, the fact is, summer is the time when heat exhaustion is most likely to strike. If you fly to your vacation destination, you are starting off your trip dehydrated. Add in the fact that you are likely out in the sun day after day, for hours at a time. It's the perfect recipe for a heat attack. Heat exhaustion can hit anyone of any age and any level of fitness (see LeBron James). It can hit at the beach, on the pitch, or on city streets. Here is some advice (vetted by doctors) on avoiding heat exhaustion.

1. HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE. You can never have too much water before you go out in the heat and while out in the sun.  As you hydrate, it's smart to alternate between water and beverages loaded with electrolytes.

2. Take it easy within 24 hours of landing after a long-distance flight.

3. Carry electrolytes with you if are prone to heat exhaustion.  I recommend REI electrolyte tablets, which are among the few without artificial ingredients.

4. Along with your water bottle, carry energy bars, dried fruit or something similar.

5. Wear a hat and sunscreen.

6. Get out of the heat and rest. Once you start feeling the effects of heat exhaustion, you may be too far gone...and an IV may be your only solution, so to speak. But if you feel on the cusp, immediately stop activity, head toward shade and try to cool your body off with ice or cold water.

7. What do you drink once heat exhaustion kicks in? Interestingly, the Chinese doctor who treated me said drinking water straight is one of the worst things you can do. He suggested that once heat exhaustion sets in, water intake further dilutes salt and potassium levels. This condition is called hypontremia. If this is your issue, there is a need to drink liquids containing electrolytes instead of straight water. At the same time, avoid carbonated beverages or anything with caffeine.

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