Heat-Related Illness—Do You Know What to Do?
Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, can be problems for people enjoying outdoor activities in the hot summer months. Those most susceptible to heat related illnesses are children, the elderly, and people working or exercising in a hot environment. A heat-related illness occurs when the body is not able to regulate and control its temperature. As the air temperature rises, your body stays cool by letting heat escape through the skin and by evaporating sweat (perspiration). On hot, humid days, the evaporation of sweat is slowed by the increased moisture in the air. When the body isn’t cooled properly, your body temperature rises, and you may become ill. If left untreated, a heat-related illness can lead to serious complications, even death. However, most heat-related illnesses can be prevented.
What are heat cramps?
Heat cramps are the least severe and often are the first signals that the body is having trouble with the heat. Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that result from overheating. They usually occur in the legs and abdomen.
How do I give care for heat cramps?
To care for heat cramps, have the person rest in a cool place. Give them cool water or a commercial sports drink. Usually, rest and fluids are all the person will need to recover. Lightly stretch the muscle and gently massage the area. Do not give the person salt tablets or salt water. They can make the situation worse.
What is heat exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can develop after exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating and the sweat does not evaporate as it should.
Know the symptoms...
- Cool, moist, pale, ashen or flushed skin
- Weakness or exhaustion
- Heavy sweating
What should I do if I think I have heat exhaustion?
If you think you have heat exhaustion, get out of the heat quickly. Rest in a cool, shady place and drink small amounts of cool water or other replenishing fluids. Loosen or remove clothing and apply wet cloths. Have someone call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number if your condition does not improve, you are unable to drink water or you start vomiting. If heat exhaustion is not treated it can progress to a worse condition; heat stroke.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is the least common, but most severe heat-related illness. It results from the total failure of the body’s heat regulation system. This occurs when the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating system fails and the body cannot cool down. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. It can cause permanent disability or even death.
Know the symptoms...
Red skin that can either be dry or moist
Changes in consciousness
Rapid, weak pulse
Rapid, shallow breathing
What should I do if I think someone has heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition. If you think someone might have heatstroke, have someone call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number right away. Move the person to a cool, shady place. Loosen or remove any unnecessary clothing and help cool him or her down. Apply wet cloths and fan the person. If the person is conscious, give them small amounts of cool water to drink (about 4 ounces every 15 minutes). Refusing water, vomiting and changes in consciousness mean that the person’s condition is getting worse. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately, if you haven’t already done so.
How can I prevent heat illness?
When the heat index is high (a measurement of how hot it feels when relative humidity is combined with the effects of the air temperature), stay indoors in air-conditioned areas whenever possible. If you must go outside, take the following precautions:
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat or using an umbrella.
- Frequently apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more
- Drink plenty of water before starting an outdoor activity. Drink extra water all day. Avoid beverages that contain caffeine (such as tea, coffee and cola) or alcohol.
- Schedule vigorous outdoor activities for cooler times of the day--before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.
- During an outdoor activity, take frequent breaks. Drink water or other fluids every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you don't feel thirsty.
- If you have a chronic medical problem, ask your doctor about how to deal with the heat, about drinking extra fluids and about your medicines.
What should I do after having heat exhaustion or heatstroke?
Do not resume activities the same day. Be especially careful not to exercise too hard, and avoid going outside in hot weather if possible. Ask your doctor to tell you when it is safe to return to your normal activities.
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