When facing health issues, we assume there are easy fixes: a pill for this, or a procedure for that. Unfortunately, when it comes to heat-related illnesses, there are no easy fixes. Our only options are hydration and rest.

For this reason, a cooling plan should not revolve around what to do when someone develops the symptoms, like in the chart below, but on how to avoid these issues from the beginning. 


A good cooling plan is a preventative plan – because the stress imposed by heat on your body has lasting consequences. Once you realize you are overheating, it is too late to avoid some of those harmful effects.

A bad cooling plan is to stay inside and crank the air conditioning up to 11. This blog series strives to give you the knowledge to make better decisions and craft a plan with more solutions, rather than just hunkering down in the A/C. We want you to be active and do more of what you love, not less because of the heat. 

The heat is an insidious problem, similar to sun exposure, in that you don’t recognize it's happening until after the fact. Also, just as repeated sunburns increase your risk of skin cancer, repeated heat-related illnesses can cause heart and other organ issues later in life. Most of us plan and use sunscreen to reduce our risk of long-term sun damage, and yet very few of us create a cooling plan or use cooling products to reduce our risk in the heat.

So why is the heat such a sneaky problem? To unpack this we first need to talk about how your body cools itself. When you get hot, you sweat and it cools the body, an important part of the cooling process. This is why hydration is critical. However, by only talking about sweat we are forgetting to address how the heat gets to the skin to be sweated away at all. Remember, as a “warm-blooded” animal your body is always producing excess heat through the work of all of your organs. This heat generally travels through your bloodstream to the skin. Because of this, the circulatory system is the most important heat exchange system within your body, and hot days add extensive stress to your heart. 

When you start to overheat your blood vessels dilate, to allow more of that hot blood to flow to the skin, this is why you may get red in the face. As your blood vessels dilate your heart needs to pump faster to maintain blood pressure to get all the energy to your organs and muscles so they can function properly.  The extra work by your heart is a major contributor to fatigue and can cause many other problems based on your health. We will discuss these risk factors in Part 3: Personal Risk Factors for Heat Stress. 

Now that you understand some of the physiology of how your body cools, let's talk about what can happen if you don't plan accordingly. The first and most headline-grabbing is the risk of serious illness or death from the heat. But equally important, and undervalued, is the fact that the heat is just plain uncomfortable and makes you unproductive. 

First, “heat causes the most weather-related deaths in the U.S.” From 2004 to 2018 it led to 702 deaths annually. When I first saw this stat, I thought, “I don’t have a job outside, so I should be fine.” But looking deeper into the data revealed that about 40 deaths were caused by a workplace. That's only 6%! There are other concerns than just death, the CDC lists 6 types of heat-related illness, some of which are major issues on their own and can cause long-term damage to your body.  Unfortunately, the public health impact of extreme heat is difficult to compile because hospitals and healthcare providers are not required to report heat-related illnesses. For clarity, the following is a breakdown of these illnesses into two categories.

First is the progression your body takes in a situation where you are overheating.

  1. Heat Cramps which are muscle spasms caused by a lack of salts and water in your body since these nutrients have been lost in sweating.  

  2. Heat Exhaustion is not about feeling tired, despite the name.  It is when your body begins to lose its ability to regulate your internal temperature. Along with cramps, symptoms include low-grade fever, nausea, thirst, and headache.

  3. Heat Stroke is a medical emergency! Your organs have begun to shut down and your body will not be able to return to its normal temperature without medical intervention. Heat stroke can cause permanent disability or death if you do not receive emergency treatment.

The second category is things that may occur depending on what you are doing or due to other circumstances surrounding what you are experiencing. They are:

  1. Heat Rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.

  2. Heat Syncope is a fainting episode or dizziness when in a hot environment. This can be caused by dehydration or lack of acclimatization and your blood pressure can change dramatically when your body is working hard to expel excess body heat.

  3. Rhabdomyolysis is a medical condition associated with heat stress and prolonged physical exertion. Rhabdo causes the rapid breakdown, rupture, and death of your muscles. When your muscle tissue dies, electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream. This can cause irregular heart rhythms, seizures, and damage to your kidneys.

With a preventative cooling plan, you can reduce the risk of medical issues. But what about other less severe consequences of overheating? We have all had an experience where we spent too much time or worked too hard in the heat and felt terrible. What does data show us about this experience?  We can look at workplace data to quantify just how much heat prevents us from being at our best.

Organizations like OSHA use words like "productivity" to talk about the efficiency of people making things on the job. It's important to take the word productivity out of that context and consider it regarding normal life.

Going grocery shopping, taking your children to an activity, sitting outside watching the grass grow, or endlessly scrolling through social media feeds, all of these activities require energy and are part of your productivity. 

In a recent study looking at workers in India, when temperatures were over 80°F, the productivity of workers dropped by as much as 4 percent per degree! To put that a different way, if the temperature is 85°F, you can expect a 20% reduction in what you accomplish.

Here’s another way to look at it, if you were out watching your child's tee ball game you would have left during the 7th inning. And most importantly, you wouldn’t get to see them make that game-saving catch. Or you would need an extra 2 hours of sleep to make up the difference, missing out on your favorite evening TV show or a nice morning breakfast.

Now is the Time to Think Cool
Let’s review sunburn prevention –  we use sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancer, but also to fight off the uncomfortable nature of sunburn. It is time we think about a cooling plan to do the same for heat. With a full understanding of yourself, your environments, and the tools available for your use, you can not only reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses but live more comfortable, productive, and fun-filled lives doing the things you love.

Join for Part 3: Personal Risk Factors for Heat Stress where we will discuss personal risk factors associated with heat; including things like age, medical conditions, acclimatization, and medications. 

Stay Cool,

The ThermApparel Team

    READ PART 3           Visit #HeatIQ Home      


**This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on ThermApparel’s website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately. Neither ThermApparel nor its employees, nor any contributor to this website, makes any representations, express or implied, with respect to the information provided herein or to its use.

ThermApparel is a small business making big waves in the heat sensitivity world by designing the first lightweight, comfortable, and invisible cooling vest, UnderCool. Check us out online, on our blog, or on FacebookTwitter, PinterestLinkedIn, and Instagram.

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