Avoid Heat Injuries: A Guide to Staying Cool and Hydrated

Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

Medically reviewed by Dr. James Tan

Heat waves can quickly go from fun in the sun to dangerous if you don’t take proper precautions. Heat injuries like heat exhaustion and heat stroke land thousands of people in the emergency room each year. Fortunately, however, with a bit of preparation and knowledge, it’s easy to avoid heat injuries. 

Let’s look at some tips from the experts on how to stay cool, recognise signs of heat illness, and treat heat-related conditions. Whether you’re an athlete training outdoors, working outside on a construction crew, or just spending time in the backyard with family, here are some tips that will help you steer clear of heat injuries.

Understanding the Hot Weather Risks 

People often underestimate the danger of hot weather and long periods in the sun. While strolling around or lunging at the park may not seem particularly dangerous, there is a real risk. 

Heat injury happens when your body can’t properly cool itself. This inability to cool down causes your body’s core temperature to rise, which causes a plethora of issues. 

What Is Heat Exhaustion? 

As your body starts to overheat, the first thing you’ll experience is heat exhaustion. It can come on subtly so it’s important to know which symptoms to look out for. Here are the signs of heat exhaustion to watch for:

  • Heavy sweating 
  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Cool, moist skin with goosebumps 
  • Fast and shallow breathing 
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Muscle cramps, often in the abdomen, arms, or legs
  • Headache, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and fainting
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Dark urine 
  • Body temperature over 40°C

Keep in mind that you may not experience all of these symptoms. If you have been in the heat and have even one of these symptoms, it’s time to get out of the heat. Heat exhaustion can result in a heat stroke. 

What Is Heat Stroke? 

Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency caused by overheating to a dangerous level. With prolonged exposure to high temperatures, your body temperature can rise to 40°C or higher, which is extremely dangerous. Here are a few factors that put you at risk for heat stroke: 

  • Living in high humidity
  • Being obese
  • Having heart disease
  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol use
  • Certain medications

Heat stroke can result in organ damage, brain damage, and even death if not treated promptly. Complications can also include disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), kidney failure, rhabdomyolysis, and seizures.

Here are some signs to look out for if you may have a heat stroke:

  • Body temperature above 40°C 
  • Hot red skin 
  • Lack of sweat despite heart 
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

If you suspect you have heat stroke, it is crucial to get immediate medical treatment. Cooling methods like cold baths along with IV fluids and hospitalisation are essential.

How To Avoid Heat Injuries 

When it comes to avoiding heat exhaustion and heat stroke, there are a few key strategies that you should always keep in mind. 

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is one of the main contributors to heat injury. Proper hydration allows your body to sweat and cool itself effectively when you get hot. When you’re dehydrated, your body can’t sweat and cool itself adequately. Aim for these hydration habits:

  • Drink 230 to 475 ml of water two hours before outdoor activity
  • Drink at least 230 ml every 20 minutes during activities in the heat
  • Opt for electrolyte-containing sports drinks to replace salts lost in sweat
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks that can dehydrate you

Dress for Hot Weather 

Choosing lightweight, breathable clothing will help you keep cool in hot weather. Here is what to keep in mind when you’re getting dressed: 

  • Opt for light-coloured clothes that won’t absorb more heat 
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes that allow the air to flow over your skin 
  • Look to moisture-wicking fabrics that pull sweat away from your skin
  • Find a wide-brimmed hat that will keep the sun off your face and neck
  • Always wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays

Be careful to always avoid dark colours and tightly woven materials that absorb heat and hold onto it. Carrying extra shirts is always a good idea when you will be outside for an extended time doing prolonged outdoor activities. It is also recommended to wear good-fitting shoes if you will be out for long to prevent hip discomfort or lower back pains.

Plan Your Day to Avoid the Heat  

Planning your exercise schedule and time outside can seriously reduce your chances of heat issues. Here are some key tips to guide your planning: 

  • Exercise in the early morning or evening when it’s cooler
  • Take regular breaks in shaded rest areas
  • Limit your activity during mid-day when the sun is at its peak 
  • Check the weather and heat index before going out for an extended time 
  • Cancel or postpone exercise if an extreme heat warning is issued

Planning activities for cooler parts of the day makes a big difference in avoiding heat-related illnesses, planning carefully and not pushing yourself too hard. 

Get Used to the Temperature Slowly

When the weather is exceptionally hot, take it slow. Gradually increase your activity in hot weather over a week or two to give your body time to adapt. These are the keys that you’ll want to consider when going out:

  • Start with less intense exercise for shorter periods 
  • Slowly work up to longer, more intense activity as you get used to the heat 
  • Increase your heat exposure time by no more than 20 minutes per day
  • Take frequent breaks during the activity

Keep in mind that going abruptly from zero activity to high-intensity exercises such as running in hot weather puts your body into shock and can cause serious problems. Before doing such exercises, it is best to do some warm-ups, which can also help to prevent muscle cramps.

Who Is at Risk for Heat Injury?

While everyone should be careful whenever they spend long periods in the sun or high heat, there are a few especially dangerous things. There are high-risk factors to always remember when the mercury rises: 

  • High heat
  • High humidity
  • Dehydration from lack of fluid intake
  • Strenuous activity in hot weather
  • Being overweight 
  • Being out of shape
  • Certain health conditions or medications
  • Lack of acclimatisation to heat
  • Being a young child 
  • Being an elderly adult 

Keeping hydrated and avoiding prolonged, intense activity during hot parts of the day is the key to lowering your risk. Even if you are not a high-risk person in a high-risk situation, it is crucial to take the heat seriously. 

Know Where to Take Cover

Taking regular breaks in shaded areas prevents your body from overheating. Here are some tips to guide your brakes:

  • Rest in shady spots
  • Sit under picnic shelters, trees, sun umbrellas or tents
  • Take cooling breaks in air-conditioned buildings if possible
  • Get into cool water or take a cool shower to cool down 
  • Avoid staying in a hot parked car without air conditioning

Take breaks regularly to avoid getting too tired and hot when you’re outdoors. 

Symptoms of Heat Injuries

Being able to treat early symptoms of heat illness allows you to take quick action. Keep reading for a clear guide on how to recognise the most common heat illness. 

Heat Cramps Symptoms

  • Muscle spasms 
  • Pain in legs or abdomen
  • Heavy sweating during intense activity

Heat Cramps Treatment: Stop all activity and hydrate yourself. Take the time to stretch and massage your muscles.

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

  • Heavy sweating
  • Pale clammy skin
  • Fast weak pulse
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dark urine

Heat Exhaustion Treatment: Move to a shaded space and drink fluids. Try to cool down with ice packs and splashing cool water or showering. 

Heat Stroke Symptoms

  • Body temp over 40°C
  • Hot red skin 
  • Dry, not sweaty skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

Heat Stroke Treatment: Call 995, move to the shade, and immerse yourself in cold water or the shower. 

heat stroke vs heat exhaustion
Image Credit: Times of India

Staying Cool at Home

You can take simple precautions at home to avoid heat issues on hot days, such as the following:

  • Draw the blinds and curtains to block sunlight
  • Drink plenty of cold fluids 
  • Eat light, cool foods
  • Take cool (not cold) showers 
  • Use damp towels to stay cool
  • Turn on fans and open windows for cross-ventilation
  • Limit physical activity 
  • Rest often
  • Wear lightweight, loose clothes
  • Never leave kids or pets in a parked car
  • Check on elderly neighbours 

Making a few adjustments will help you beat the heat indoors.

Staying Cool Outside 

Outdoor activities from sports to commuting require extra diligence. Here are a few smart strategies:

  • Wear light-coloured, breathable clothing and sunscreen
  • Drink fluids before, during and after activity
  • Schedule exercise for cooler parts of the day
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade
  • Stop the activity if you feel overheated.
  • Avoid overdoing it during your first days in hot temps.
  • Be particularly careful from 10:00 to 16:00 when the heat is at its peak

Planning rigorous activities for early morning or evening will help keep you safe and cool.

Heat Injury Treatment

If heat exhaustion sets in, these steps can provide relief:

  • Move to a shaded or air-conditioned area
  • Drink cool, non-alcoholic beverages
  • Take a cool shower or use cold compresses
  • Remove any tight or unnecessary clothing
  • Fan your body to promote evaporative cooling

If symptoms persist or you develop heat stroke, seek emergency medical care right away.

Preventing Heat Injuries

While heat injuries can’t always be avoided, proper preparation and caution go a long way. Stay alert when temperatures climb. Minor changes in plans can make all the difference. 

Getting Help for Heat Illness in Singapore 

Not feeling well in high heat? Not only is it essential to learn good fitness training and heat management techniques, but you should also check for underlying conditions to ensure that nothing is causing your discomfort beyond the heat. 

Looking for a medical professional in Singapore who can help you with your condition? Let’s talk! Our team of orthopaedic doctors specialise in areas such as ACL tear treatment, rotator cuff injuries, and several other conditions.

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About The Author

dr james tan

Dr James Tan Chung Hui

Dr James Tan is a skilled orthopaedic surgeon at Quantum Orthopaedics who has more than 10 years of experience in sports surgery and exercise medicine in Singapore. Apart from partnering with the industry to introduce various treatment techniques, Dr Tan has treated athletes from the Singapore National Teams and professional footballers from the Singapore Premier League and the Young Lions.

Dr Tan specialises in treating sports injuries of the knee, shoulder and elbow joints, as well as cartilage and meniscus surgery. He is a member of the elite Asian Shoulder and Elbow Group and a founding member of the Singapore Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Society.

Qualifications and Achievements
MBBS - National University of Singapore (NUS), Faculty of Medicine
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (MRCS)
MMed - Master of Medicine in Orthopaedic Surgery (NUS)
Fellow of Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh)
Adjunct Assistant Professor | NUS, LKC
Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgery, Sports and Exercise Medicine
Head of Department | Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Centre
Awards
Principal Investigator of Tissue Engineering
National Medical Research Council grants
Collaboration with Scientists at NTU, TUM, A*Star, Osteopore & Trendlines Medical Singapore

Accreditations

  1. Mount Elizabeth Orchard
  2. Mount Elizabeth Novena
  3. Farrer Park Hospital
  4. Mount Alvernia Hospital
  5. Aptus Surgery Centre
  6. Novaptus Surgery Centre

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