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Heat and Headaches

by
author image Lisa Sefcik
Lisa Sefcik has been writing professionally since 1987. Her subject matter includes pet care, travel, consumer reviews, classical music and entertainment. She's worked as a policy analyst, news reporter and freelance writer/columnist for Cox Publications and numerous national print publications. Sefcik holds a paralegal certification as well as degrees in journalism and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.
Heat and Headaches
Your headache could be a symptom of simple heat exhaustion. Photo Credit headache image by Pavel Losevsky from Fotolia.com

Sunny, warm weather gets you out and about–but it can also be the source of your headache. Throbbing temples can be triggered by changes in temperature and humidity. However, a painful headache can also be a symptom of a heat-related illness. Learn what to do to cool down and assuage a pounding head so you can avoid more serious complications.

What Causes Headaches

Primary headaches–those not caused by an underlying medical condition–result when the nerves and blood vessels in your head act in concert with the chemical activity in your brain, causing pounding temples. Primary headaches such as cluster headaches, tension headaches and migraines can be brought on by numerous triggers related to your lifestyle, including alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, and in some cases, heat. You may get worse headaches during hot, humid months–and you may also get them more frequently. A survey conducted by the National Headache Foundation discovered that 75 percent of people who experienced chronic headaches or migraines were unable to enjoy outdoor activities due to changes in temperature, altitude, storms and wind. Contributing factors may include bright sunlight, use of scented sunscreen and changes in diet.

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Heat Exhaustion

Headaches are also characteristic of heat exhaustion, which is caused by a combination of hot temperature, high humidity and overexertion. Along with a pounding headache, you may also notice other symptoms, including muscle cramps, a rapid pulse, nausea and/or vomiting, fatigue and cool, clammy skin even when you're in the sun. Dehydration plays a large role in heat exhaustion. When you become overheated, you can't sweat enough to keep your body temperature cool. If you think you may have heat exhaustion, stop what you're doing, seek shade and drink water or a sports drink.

Heat Stroke

A bad, pounding headache is also a symptom of heat stroke–the most dangerous heat-related illness. Heat stroke occurs when your body can no longer cool itself naturally. Your body temperature can escalate to 106 degree F. or even higher within as few as 10 minutes. Other symptoms to be on the lookout for include skin that's hot and dry–you won't sweat; a quick, strong pulse; dizziness and/or confusion; nausea and/or vomiting; and finally, you could lose consciousness. Heat stroke can cause permanent damage and even death.

What to Do

If you experience a headache when you're outside and the temps are high, get into an air-conditioned place or retreat to someplace shady. Lie on your back with your legs propped up so that they're above heart level. Drink an abundance of water or sports drinks. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages because these cause dehydration. Take a cool shower or soak in a cool tub, if possible. If you're wearing too much clothing, take off superfluous layers. Your symptoms should subside in an hour, but if they don't, seek medical treatment.

Get Help

Headache associated with heat stroke requires you to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Other symptoms of heat stroke include fainting, dizziness, hot skin, muscle cramping or weakness, shallow breathing and confusion. Have a friend or family member drive you to the emergency room, if possible. If emergency services are summoned, ask someone to help you to a cool or shaded area while you wait for help to arrive. If you are assisting a heat stroke victim, cool the victim down as quickly as you can. Place him in a tub of cool water, sponge him off with water or wrap him in a wet sheet. Use cooling techniques until his body temperature drops to between 101 and 102 degrees F. or until medical assistance arrives.

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