How To: Avoid the Hidden Dangers of Heat Exhaustion While Traveling

by  Laura Powell | May 17, 2016

For most people, summer vacation is synonymous with catching some rays. But when it comes to the sun, the old saying holds especially true -- you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Extended time in hot weather can lead to dehydration and salt depletion, ultimately resulting in heat exhaustion. Symptoms can include headaches, nausea, and ennui. Here's what you need to know to make sure you evade the sun's plague.

What factors contribute to heat exhaustion?

It starts, of course, with heat and humidity (which, combined, make up the heat index); that alone can do the trick. But heat exhaustion may set in more quickly while traveling, exacerbated by the dehydrating effects of air travel; participation in strenuous, sweat-inducing activity; and vacationing in high altitudes. If you do not increase water intake while traveling (especially if you do increase alcohol consumption) you may find yourself in the eye of a perfect storm for getting sick.

To fend off heat exhaustion before it hits, consider these tips:

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Drink more water than usual beginning a week out from your trip -- especially if it involves air travel. On location, drink water throughout the day. Better yet, as you hydrate, alternate between water and liquids taken with electrolytes, like coconut water. This strategy can help fend off both dehydration and salt depletion.

2. Take it easy in the first 24 hours of landing.

Don't make plans for strenuous activity the first day after a long-distance flight. Climbing mountains and scaling Great Walls -- especially in warm, humid climates -- should be held until days three or four, ideally.

3. Always wear a hat and sunscreen.

This one is pretty self explanatory, but you'll want to take every opportunity to minimize additional harmful effects from the sun.

4. If you feel sick, get out of the heat.

If you catch the symptoms early, you may be able to fend off full-blown heat exhaustion. Once you feel slightly dehydrated or unwell, immediately stop activity, head toward the shade, loosen your clothing, and cool your body off with ice or cold water.

5. Think twice before you reach for your water.

After my own case of heat exhaustion, a Chinese doctor alerted me that drinking water straight is possibly one of the worst things you can do when felled by heat exhaustion. He suggested extreme water intake can further dilute salt levels, causing a condition called hyponatremia. If a salt shortage is the underlying issue, electrolytes instead of pure water are the way to go.

While these tips should be taken into account while traveling, it is wise to consult your doctor before traveling to extremely hot destinations. And always get travel insurance -- just in case.

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