By Gabe Sanders PhD, NSCA-CSCS
As summer peaks and the heat and humidity intensifies, it is always good to be prepared for potential power outages or air conditioning failures. Scientists suggest that individuals 60 years and older are the most vulnerable this time of year to heat-related illnesses. Especially if you have any type of chronic disease or are overweight, it is of imperative to understand the risk of overheating and how to prevent or treat such occurrences.
Stay hydrated and use an ice pack
My primary recommendation is to avoid direct sunlight for excessive periods of time and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. If you rely on some type of electronic device (for example a fan or air conditioner) to cool your home or your body, it is important to have a well thought out backup plan.
It is always wise to have some ice stored up in your freezer just in case you need to cool your body down after being outside or if the power goes out. Using ice as a method of cooling has been used by physicians to treat hyperthermia in the emergency rooms for decades, maybe even centuries. It is important to understand where to put the icepack.
Place cool pack on more effective locations on your body
The stereotypical back of the neck placement is not the most effective location. In fact, it is best to place ice or a cooler object next to a large vein or even your hands and fingers.
Heat transfer, in part, occurs near the skin and if a liquid, or object that is cold is placed next to veins that are near the surface of the skin, your blood can be safely cooled as it is transported back to your heart, therefore reducing the temperature of your blood when you are too hot. This is how you can effectively prevent or treat heat-related illnesses.
Best locations to place cold pack- hands, fingers, and antecubital space
The most ideal locations on your body to place a cold pack is on your hands and fingers, your antecubital space which is the crease on the front part of your arms and even under your armpits or your groin area.
These locations are much more effective than putting a cool towel or ice pack on your neck or your head. You should also know that placing ice directly on your skin without a protective cloth or garment for too long can injure your skin.
If you find yourself becoming too hot outside, find shade, drink cool or cold water and cool down the right way with cool packs. If you are at a greater risk of hyperthermia or a heat-related illness, it is always important to be prepared for any situation and Do Not risk it!
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Kenny GP, Yardley J, Brown C, et al. Heat stress in older individuals and patients with common chronic diseases. Canadian Medical Association. 2010; 182(10): 1053-60.