As the mercury in thermometers skyrocket, and the humidity climbs unbearably high this summer, Missourians must heed warnings of heat exhaustion and look for ways to prevent heat stroke.
We are in the midst of another hot summer. Heat-related deaths can be prevented with basic precautions and frequent contact with family members at risk. Outdoor laborers, athletes and the elderly are at special risk for heat-related illness.
The milder condition we call “heat exhaustion” can occur if your body temperature is between 98.6o F and 103o F. Once the human body’s temperature rises above 103o F in the heat, it can push the body into an even graver condition called heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. It can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high-blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
Warning signs of heat exhaustion include:
- heavy sweating
- muscle cramps
- nausea or vomiting
Immediately remove yourself and the victim from the heat, and hydrate with fluids (preferably containing electrolytes). Cooling measures that may be effective include: drinking cool, nonalcoholic beverages, rest, a cool shower, bath or sponge bath, change into lightweight clothing and moving into an air-conditioned environment.
Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature: your body’s temperature rises rapidly, your sweating mechanism fails, and your body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Medical signs of heat stroke include liver failure, rapid breathing, blood clot formation, irregular heartbeat, kidney failure, massive muscle breakdown and significant mental status changes. Someone experiencing heat stroke needs to be seen by emergency medical personnel immediately. Cooling measures must be started and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may even be needed.
Your best defense against heat-related illness is prevention. Here are a few suggestions from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
- Don’t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar. These beverages actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
- Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library – even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
- Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Check adults at greater risk for heat-related illness several times each day. Those at higher risk -include people age 65 and older, those who suffer from mental illness and those who are ill, including heart disease or high blood pressure. Watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, more frequent watching.
Heed these suggestions for keeping your family cool this summer.
This article was originally published in the Suburban Journal on July 6, 2005.
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