Hot Weather Flying

May 2012

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer... Those days of soda and pretzels and beer. Or so the song goes buy Nat King Cole so many years ago. It is almost summertime but even though the first day of summer (June 20, 7:09 P.M. EDT) is still a few weeks away we have had spring weather rivaling that of some summer days. So, because of some unseasonal, as well as ‘soon to be’ seasonal weather; I thought it appropriate to share some information regarding extremely hot weather safety. Please remember that this is a guide to protecting yourself and is by no means ‘all-inclusive’! Therefore, it is always a good idea to get your medical advice, in person, from a health care provider you trust.

Typically, our bodies have the ability to maintain very fine control of temperature. What makes us ill in the heat is when this control becomes compromised. Increases in temperature, internal or external, will trigger a series of cooling efforts by your body; most notably sweating. When we sweat (some of you, the elite, will perspire) the beads of salty water on our skin provide an amazing opportunity for cooling. The sweat will evaporate or become water vapor; and with that vapor is carried a certain amount of heat. Multiplied thousands and thousands of times this effect is quite dramatic. Small blood vessels near the surface of the skin will dilate allowing for the cooling effect to be realized throughout the body. In many ways this is exactly how an air conditioner works. When we stress this air conditioner of the body past its limits of control the temperature can become elevated very quickly! Very high temperatures combined with increased humidity will surely decrease evaporative cooling. Water can only evaporate from your skin if the air surrounding you is dry. The water will move from the relatively high concentration on your skin to the lower concentration in the air. Decreased water intake, certain medications (water pills), coffee, sweets or alcohol will leave you with less fluid to supply much needed sweat.

Temperature control is essential to life because chemical processes of the human body require a very narrow range in order to work properly. The normal body temperature that we all know since we were young is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit; however, the range can be as low as 97.0F to as high as 99.0F depending on the time of day. Even a slight fever of 100 degrees can make you feel miserable and that would only be 1.4 degrees above average and only one degree above high-normal. Enzymes, responsible for activating human chemical reactions, become inactivated or destroyed depending on how different body temperature is from normal. This inactivation, in turn, makes body reactions less efficient. Just imagine what increased physical activity and exposure to a hotter climate than we are used to will do to us. Sooner or later dehydration, increased strain on your heart from thickened blood, and eventual failure of the sweating process to keep up with cooling will take its toll unless you are prepared by supplementing your body’s natural defenses against overheating.

The key to staying safe in summertime heat is preparedness! Practically 100% of all heat related emergencies are avoidable. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that from 1979-2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. Averaging more than 300 per year; more people died from extreme heat exposure than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. Amazing to think about considering it seems the latter of these natural disasters appear in the news more often than issues relating to heat exposure! The state of New Jersey Department of Health reported in 2005 that overexposure to summer heat causes between 25 and 170 hospitalizations annually. The majority of hospitalized individuals are male, aged 65-84, and are admitted for 3 or more days. Additionally, less severe cases of heat related illness send many people to hospital emergency departments without overnight stay or only require treatment at home. Generally,  excepting children of 14 years or less, risk of heat related illness increases with age and chronic illness.

Following are examples of minor to severe disorders related to heat exposure. Where corrective measures are listed, please note, you may need to be medically trained in order to provide assistance. If there is any question of your ability, err on the side of caution and call for help no matter how minor you think the situation is.


Symptoms of sunburn are well known: the skin becomes red, painful, and abnormally warm after sun exposure. Corrective measures: Consult a doctor if affected person is younger than 1 year of age or if fever, fluid- filled blisters or severe pain is present. Naturally you should avoid repeated exposure to the sun and wear protective sun block as needed as a preventive measure. You can cool the affected area with compresses or immerse in cool (not ice) water. Moisturize with lotion or aloe products but do not use butter, salve or ointments unless directed by a physician. Do not break any skin blisters or you may risk contamination of a now open wound. While usually minor, sunburn can contribute to more serious heat exposure related conditions.

Heat Rash:

Looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters and is likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases. Corrective measures: Provide a cooler, less humid environment and keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort.

Heat Cramps:

Usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity and deplete their body of salt and moisture. Muscles require proper amounts of electrolytes (salts) to contract properly. These salts are not only similar to 'table' salt which contains Sodium. Other salts important in the body may contain Magnesium or Potassium, to name a some. Heat cramps can be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Signs and symptoms: muscle pains or spasm in the abdomen, arms, or legs. If you have heart disease or are on a low-sodium diet, medical attention is recommended. Corrective measures: Move to a cool area, rest and replace water and electrolytes. Do not resume activity that day and until cramping has fully subsided after repletion of fluids and salt because heat cramps can progress to heat exhaustion. Repletion of electrolytes may require medical attention.

Heat Exhaustion:

Usually experienced after several days of exposure to increased temperature without adequate intake of fluids and salt. Most prone are those of advanced age and/ or with cardiac disease. Signs and symptoms: increased sweating, pale skin, dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and fainting. Corrective measures: move to air conditioned area, cool (not cold) fluid and electrolyte replacement possibly directed by a physician, rest, cool shower or sponge bath. Assistance from others can be helpful especially if light- headed and there is a risk of falling. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke very rapidly so be sure to monitor carefully and call 911 if worsening.

Heat Stroke:

This is the most serious of heat related conditions characterized by body temperature in excess of 103F, bounding pulse, hot (dry) skin without sweating, confusion, dizziness, nausea, extreme headache and unconsciousness. Progressively worsening cases can produce seizure activity and you will possibly see muscle twitching. Corrective measures: Call 911, remove victim to a cool area and cool rapidly by any method available. Spray the victim with water, put ice packs in armpits and groin area, wrap in wet sheet and fan vigorously if humidity is low or immerse in a tub of cool (not freezing cold) water. Stay with victim and protect airway. Do not give food or fluids! Most important is to call for help as soon as you possibly can. This is not a condition you can adequately correct on your own in the field!

Because heat-related deaths are preventable, you need to be aware of who is at greatest risk and what actions can be taken to prevent a heat-related illness or death. Persons older than 65 or younger than 14 years and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are statistically at highest risk. However,  anyone can succumb to heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather. Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. If you cannot be home because you long to be on the field flying your prized model aircraft, use common sense and pay attention to the following precautions.

Drink Plenty of Fluids: You must drink fluids even if you are not thirsty. It is very easy to change your ‘set point’ of thirst if you are the type to avoid drinking until you are thirsty. Your body will delay the thirst signal while you continually dehydrate. Drink 16-32 oz of cool fluids each hour in hot conditions. Persons with chronic medical conditions should consult their medical professional for additional advice regarding hydration. Avoid alcoholic beverages or very sweet drinks that can actually cause body fluid loss. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps. A sports drink such as Gatorade may be helpful. You can dilute the product with water (at least in half) to cut back on the sugar content. Consult your physician if you are on a salt restriction.

Take frequent Rest breaks: Move to a shady area or air conditioned vehicle. Remember that vehicles with exhaust systems in poor conditions pose a risk of exposure to Carbon Monoxide and that exposure can prove fatal. Move to an air conditioned home or store, if possible, as soon as practical. Schedule your time at the field carefully and avoid times of peak risk like the middle of the day. Also, avoid going outdoors on days of high heat and humidity (high heat index). This is the most risky because body cooling is inefficient as mentioned earlier.

Wear the correct clothing: Wear loose fitting, light colored, clothing. Protect yourself from the sun with the use of a wide-brimmed, well ventilated hat. Apply sunscreen to the skin before exposure to the sun and continually, as directed.

Don’t Go Alone: Typically, it can take at least two weeks to become acclimated to extreme changes in temperature. However, that acclimation may not prove sufficient even in the best of circumstances. When going to the field it is always a good idea to have someone else with you. The flying will be more fun and you will have someone to help you in case the heat gets to you! For those who are overly sensitive to climate changes, have certain medical conditions, or are on medication; this can be an especially good and even life-saving practice.