By Angel MedFlight Contributor
As the nation sizzles under the summer heat, it’s good to get a refresher course on heat-related illnesses and ways to prevent. them. The offices for Angel MedFlight are in Scottsdale, Ariz., where summer temps often push the mercury up to 110 degrees and beyond. Other parts of the nation as well are bound to get extreme heat this summer and it’s important to know if you or someone you know is overheating. Too much heat can be fatal.
It’s important to know right off the bat that those at the greatest risk for heat-related illness are infants and children up to four years of age and people 65 or older. People who are overweight, ill or on certain medications are also at a higher risk.
When the body heats up, it sweats to cool itself off. But under certain conditions sweating isn’t enough and that’s when our body temperature starts to rise rapidly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. In high humidity, sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly and that prevents the body from releasing heat quickly.
Know the signs of heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness. The CDC says heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body’s sweating mechanism fails and the body can’t cool down. Heat stroke can lead to permanent disability and even death.
The CDC says warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include an extremely high body temperature (above 103°F), red, hot and dry skin with no sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness.
If you see any of these signs, have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin to cool the victim. Get the victim to a shady area and start cooling the person rapidly. Try getting the victim into a tub of cool water or place the person in a cool shower. Even spraying the person with a garden hose will help. If the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan the person vigorously.
The CDC recommends monitoring the victim’s body temperature until it drops to 101-102°F. Do not give the victim any alcohol to drink and seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
While not as severe as heat stroke, heat exhaustion is another heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures without replenishing the body with adequate and balanced fluids. Who is most prone to heat exhaustion? Elderly people, those with high blood pressure and people who work or exercise in a hot environment.
The warning signs for heat exhaustion include dizziness, nausea or vomiting, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, paleness, weakness and fainting. The victim may also experience tiredness and muscle cramps. The victim’s skin may be cool and most and their pulse rate will be fast and weak. Breathing will be rapid and shallow. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke so it’s important to seek medical attention if the symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.
In order to cool the body during heat exhaustion the CDC recommends drinking cool, nonalcoholic beverages, taking a cool shower, bath or sponge bath, resting and getting into an air-conditioned area wearing lightweight clothing.
Many people will continue to work or play in extreme heat, thinking perhaps they are immune to a heat-related illness. Best not to chance it. Know the warning signs and keep cool this summer. Drink plenty of fluids, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance wants you to have a happy and healthy summer.