Too often as a hot yoga teacher, I see students affected by heat exhaustion. I myself have experienced heat exhaustion many times after teaching really intense, athletic yoga classes in 100-degree rooms or spending the day out on the paddleboard. It seems like every time I travel abroad in the summer I get minor heat exhaustion or sunburns. It's so easy to get swept up in the fun or the challenge of a great hot yoga practice or an exciting outdoor activity, but it's essential to avoid heat exhaustion. Nothing can ruin a fun day in the sun or the blissful post-yoga state like heat stroke.
What is Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion
Heatstroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the body’s temperature rises to dangerous levels, usually 104°F or higher. It is caused by an inability to regulate body temperature, usually due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures, combined with dehydration. Mild heat exhaustion can leave you feeling absolutely awful. Severe heatstroke can cause serious health problems, including organ damage, brain damage, and even death in very, very extreme cases.
What are the Symptoms of Heatstroke
There are many symptoms of heatstroke and heat exhaustion and each body experiences heatstroke somewhat differently.
The symptoms of mild heat exhaustion are:
Elevated body temperature
Decreased urine output
The symptoms of extreme heat stroke are:
Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech
Loss of consciousness (coma)
Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
Very high body temperature
If you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of extreme heat stroke it's absolutely necessary to seek medical attention immediately.
What Can Cause Heatstroke
There are lots of causes of heat exhaustion but they all come down to the same problem; the body being exposed to a high heat environment for too long.
Heatstroke is a challenge in the summer because of the higher temperatures both inside and outside. Hours of consecutive sun exposure can increase the body's internal temperature and compound the negative impact of sunburns or sun exhaustion. Heatstroke is particularly sneaking when the temperature is increased gradually over the day. If your home doesn't have AC, be aware that as you go about the day working or passing time at home, the temperature may be rising. You may not even consciously realize that you are too hot until you start to develop the early symptoms of heatstroke.
Another common place that many folks develop heat stroke is in the hot yoga room. If the space is too hot and the practice is too strenuous for your body it's possible that you might begin to develop mild heatstroke. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between heat stroke and high levels of physical fatigue, but frankly, neither should be experienced on the yoga mat.
How to Prevent Heatstroke
1. Hydrate hydrate hydrate :
Staying hydrated is key to preventing heatstroke! Drink plenty of water before, during, and after hot yoga sessions. Make sure to keep a water bottle with you throughout your practice and take frequent sips. Avoid sugary drinks, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol, as they can cause dehydration. Adding electrolytes to water is a great way to help stay hydrated and replace minerals lost through sweat. Make sure to bring snacks along on any outdoor adventures in the heat to replenish energy and hydrate further. Eating light snacks such as fruits and vegetables can help prevent dehydration and provide the essential nutrients for safe fun in the heat.
2. Limit exposure to heat:
The best way to prevent heatstroke is to limit your exposure to heat. If it's already hot outside, consider taking a shorter hot yoga class or an unheated yoga class. Think carefully about when you are going to spend time outside on hot days and plan your schedule and activities around optimizing time in shade, AC or cool areas at peak heat hours.
3. Know the symptoms and be aware of your body's sensations:
Know the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke so that you're able to take action if they arise for you. Some people feel nauseous first while others get headaches. Know your warning signs and be prepared to take the steps to prevent your symptoms from worsening.
4. Wear the proper clothing:
Wear clothing that is lightweight and allows for airflow if possible. Long pants and shirts can protect against the sun's rays but can also cause the body to overheat. Opt for clothing that allows your skin to breathe.
5. Take opportunities to cool off:
It is important to take frequent breaks in shaded or cool areas to allow your body to cool down. Additionally, it is important to listen to your body and if you start to feel uncomfortable, stop what you are doing and find a cooler place. If you are participating in hot yoga classes, make sure to take extra precautions to prevent heatstroke, such as drinking plenty of fluids and taking frequent breaks in cooler areas. Never, ever take a hot yoga class where you cannot easily and safely leave the room.
What to Do When You Experience Heat Exhaustion
According to the CDC, there are several things you can do right away as first aid for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Here are some first-aid steps:
Remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks.
Take frequent sips of cool water.
Cool down quickly, using the following methods:
With a cold water or ice bath, if possible
Wet the skin (particularly the head, face, and neck with cold water)
Place cold wet cloths on the skin
Soak clothing with cool water
Circulate the air around you to speed cooling.
Place cold wet cloths or ice on your head, neck, armpits, and groin; or soak your clothing with cool water.