Submitted by Ryan Wille, B.S.
Community Health Educator
The summer months are filled with hot days that can put individuals at risk of developing heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Heat-related illnesses occur when the body can not keep itself cool. As the air temperature rises, the human body stays cool when sweat evaporates. However, the evaporation of sweat is slowed down by increased moisture in the air on hot and humid days. When sweating isn’t enough to keep the body cool, the body temperature rises and individuals may become ill.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body gets too hot. It can be caused by physical exercise or hot weather. If an individual has heat exhaustion, they may experience:
- Heavy sweating
- Feeling weak and/or confused
- Fast heartbeat
- Dark-colored urine, which is an indicator of dehydration
If you think you have heat exhaustion, you should get out of the heat quickly. Rest in a building with air-conditioning or find a cool and shady place. Drink plenty of water and other fluids. Do not drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks, because they can make heat exhaustion worse. Take a cool shower or bath and remove any tight or unnecessary clothing. If you don’t feel well in 30 minutes, contact a doctor. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can progress to heatstroke.
Heat stroke is an abnormally elevated body temperature with accompanying physical symptoms including changes in the nervous system function. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency that is often fatal if not treated correctly. Infants, the elderly, athletes and those who physically exert themselves outside under the sun, are at the highest risk of heat stroke.
Symptoms of heat stroke can sometimes mimic those of heart attacks. Sometimes a person experiences symptoms of heat exhaustion before it progresses to heat stroke. Common symptoms and signs of heat stroke include:
- High body temperature
- Absence of sweating, with red or flushed dry skin
- Rapid pulse
- Difficulty breathing
- Strange behavior
If you think someone might have heatstroke, call emergency medical personnel immediately! While waiting, take the person into an air-conditioned building or a cool, shady place. Remove unnecessary clothing to cool them down. Try to fan air over the person while wetting their skin with water. Appling ice packs to the person’s armpits, groin, neck and back can also help them cool down.
The best way to prevent heat illness is to stay in air-conditioned areas as much as possible on hot days. If you must go outside, here are several precautions to take to keep you safe:
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Protect yourself from the sun with hats or umbrellas.
- Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or more.
- Drink plenty of water before starting an outdoor activity and continue to drink extra water throughout the day.
- Drink fewer beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol.
- Schedule activities before 10:00 a.m. and after 6:00 p.m. when the sun isn’t as strong.
- During outdoor activities, take frequent breaks. Drink water or other fluids every 15 to 20 minutes.
- If you have a chronic medical problem, ask your doctor how to deal with the heat, especially how your medications relate to heat.
For more information, visit www.FamilyDoctor.org, contact your health care provider or HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120. You can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, see our website at nlh.org, or visit our wellness center at 213 Harrison Street Ext. in Johnstown, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. We’re your community health & wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.