Extreme Heat Poses Health Threat

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are conditions related to exposure to extreme heat. Be aware of the dangers of high temperatures and humidity and take precautions against falling victim to heat-related illnesses.

During the summer, when temperatures are known to reach health-threatening points, it’s especially important to learn strategies to avoid heat-related illness and recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Above-average temperatures and/or unusually humid conditions kill more than 600 people in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke symptoms may develop quickly or over a period of several days. Typical symptoms include muscle cramps, a rapid, weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, an overall sense of weakness, dizziness and sometimes fainting, cold, clammy skin, excessive perspiration, headaches and dark-colored urine.

Certain factors can increase susceptibility to heat-related illnesses. For example, very young children and adults over the age of 65 may have more difficulty regulating their body temperatures. People who are obese or who have heart disease or other chronic diseases are at increased risk for heat-related illness. Exertion, such as construction and yard work or sports activities can be challenging to the body’s temperature regulation. Sudden exposure to high temperatures or a lack of air conditioning can strain the body’s temperature-regulation capabilities, as can certain health conditions such as lung disease. Even some medications can affect the body’s ability to remain hydrated and respond adequately to high temperatures.

Heat exhaustion is less serious than heatstroke. If you suspect you have heat exhaustion, immediately rehydrate and rest. If your symptoms don’t improve, seek medical attention from your provider to prevent progression to more dangerous heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees or higher. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. Failing to access immediate treatment can result in damage to multiple organs and organ systems, including the kidneys, liver, lungs, digestive system, circulatory system, brain and nervous system, and muscles.

Treatment for heatstroke focuses on cooling the body to return it to a normal temperature to prevent or reduce damage to the brain and other organs. It may involve immersing the body in cold water, misting cool water over the body while fanning warm air over it to cause evaporation and cool the skin, or wrapping the body in specialized cooling blankets and applying ice packs.

To prevent suffering heat-related illness, stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing along with a hat. Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher. Avoid or limit alcoholic beverages and beverages containing caffeine such as coffee and tea. Take frequent breaks from outdoor activities and plan any outdoor activities for early morning or evening when the temperatures are lower.

If any symptoms arise that could indicate undue body stress due to high temperatures, immediately stop the activity, seek shade or air conditioning, rest and rehydrate.

 

 

Author
Ithaca Primary Care

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