July 15, 2021 – Hundreds of Americans have died from heat-related illnesses in the latest nationwide heat wave, and this week’s forecast also brings temperatures down to triple digits for millions. When thermometers reach historic levels, many are at risk, from young children attending camps to the elderly seeking shelter from the heat.
Heat-related illnesses can mean heat exhaustion or heat stroke, the latter being more serious and potentially fatal. Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat discomfort that can occur when a person is exposed to high temperatures without drinking enough water. Heat stroke occurs when the internal body temperature reaches 104 ° F or 40 ° C. Heat stroke can cause seizures or coma and, if left untreated, can lead to heart attacks and death. (Learn more about heat stroke here.)
How to take action
The best ways to help a heat-exhausted person differ from those recommended for someone who has suffered from heat stroke. Here are the top tips:
- Drink cool liquids, especially sports drinks and water. Caffeinated and alcoholic drinks are diuretics and will make you urinate more, so avoid them. Keep liquids cool rather than cold, as cold water can cause stomach cramps.
- Rest in a cool place. It could be an air-conditioned building, or at least a shady spot outside. Lie on your back with your legs higher than your core.
- Try cooling measures, such as taking a cool shower or bath. You can also put towels soaked in cold water on your skin. If you’re outside and don’t have access to a faucet, find a cool pond or stream to stand on.
- Loosen your clothes. Take off any clothes you don’t need and make sure your clothes are light and don’t bind on you.
Unlike heat exhaustion, heat stroke requires immediate medical help. When someone has heat stroke, the most important thing to do is call 911 for medical help.. While waiting for help to arrive, do the following:
- Take the person to a cool place. Go to nearby air-conditioned buildings or find a shady spot.
- Perform cooling measures, such as placing the person in a cool shower or bath. Taking a sponge, soaking it in cold water, and moving it along the person’s skin can also help.
- Monitor body temperature. Take the victim’s temperature and continue cooling measurements until his body temperature drops to 101 F.
- Give victim to drink if awake and able. Stick to the water. Avoid sugary drinks. Caffeinated and alcoholic drinks are diuretics and will increase urination, so avoid them as well. Keep liquids cool rather than cold, as cold water can cause stomach cramps.
These tips will help you prevent heat-related illnesses in the first place:
- Drink lots of fluids. Avoid coffee, tea, and alcohol. Once you’re thirsty, you’re at least half a liter behind.
- Limit your exercise in hot and humid environments. Take it slow, especially around noon and early afternoon when the heat is most likely to be at its peak.
- Wear light, breathable clothing.
- Wait until you acclimatize. If you’re not used to high temperatures, wait to exercise in the heat until you get used to it.
Understanding heat-related illnesses
Heat stroke can damage human cells that are essential for the central nervous system and other systems, says Grant Lipman, MD, clinical professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and founder of GOES.health.
“This internal temperature is a combination of the internal temperature induced, through metabolic functioning and exercise, and passive exposure to external temperature, minus the body’s ability to dissipate heat,” he says. .
GOES, which stands for Global Outdoor Emergency Support, is a digital medical guide and emergency assistance app for outdoor adventurers.
Heat stroke can be the result of physical exertion – in which case the body can regulate heat normally, but too much exercise impairs the ability to do so.
For example, you may experience heat stroke during intense training in hot weather without drinking enough water first. Heat stroke can also occur when the body’s temperature regulation system is failing, which is more likely to occur in older people who may have chronic health problems.
Signs and symptoms of heat sickness
The signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion are different in some ways. Heat exhaustion often causes profuse sweating and pale skin, dizziness or fainting, headache, muscle cramps or weakness, nausea or vomiting, and a rapid heartbeat. Heat stroke, on the other hand, is marked by a lack of sweat, as well as skin that appears red, hot, and dry. People with heat stroke may also be confused, have a headache, feel dizzy, faint, have a fast and strong heartbeat, and experience nausea or vomiting.
People prone to heat-related illnesses include those who exercise in hot, humid environments, which may include children participating in sports training and summer camps.
“Fast, brisk exercise is likely to produce more heat than slower exercise, but both can produce significantly high internal temperatures,” says Lipman.
Exercising in a hot, humid environment limits the body’s ability to cool itself through sweating, which increases the risk of heat stroke, he says.
Seniors are at increased risk for heat-related illnesses, as is anyone who takes medicines used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems (beta blockers and diuretics) and allergy symptoms (antihistamines).
Obesity is also a risk factor, as carrying excess weight can cause the body to retain more heat. Additionally, people who are not used to high heat, such as those who live in cold climates all year round, are at greater risk.
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