With warmer weather fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about ways to stay cool this summer. There are a variety of heat-related illnesses that can strike you and your loved ones. These illnesses are caused by prolonged or intense exposure to hot temperatures, typically occurring in the summer months.
It’s important to remember that the elderly, the obese, children and those who work outside are at a greater risk of suffering from hyperthermia, an elevated internal body temperature. Athletes who exercise in hot weather are also at an increased risk. Those who live in humid environments may be more susceptible as well.
Here are some common heat-related illnesses and how to treat them.
- Overheating – Overheating is an elevated body temperature that occurs when the body tries to cool itself through profuse sweating. The first symptoms of overheating that many people experience is muscle cramps. Cramps are caused by the loss of salt and other minerals through sweating. If you experience heat cramps, drink water with a snack or consume a sports drink with electrolytes. Seek medical attention if the cramps last more than an hour.
- Heat exhaustion – Heat exhaustion occurs with the loss of an excessive amount of water and electrolytes through sweating. This loss can cause problems with circulation and brain function. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headaches, nausea, irritability and the decreased ability to urinate. You can treat heat exhaustion by moving the person to a cooler location and having them lie down. Loosen their clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to their body. Have them take small, frequent sips of water. If they lose consciousness or have slurred speech, call 911 immediately.
- Heat stroke – The most serious heat-related illness, heat stroke, can cause death or permanent disability without emergency medical treatment. Heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to regulate its temperature. Sweating stops and the body can’t cool itself. Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion or an altered mental state, a loss of consciousness, hot/dry skin and seizures. If someone around you is suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately. Move the person to a cooler area and try to reduce their body temperature with cold cloths or submersion in cold water if possible.
Being proactive can decrease the risk of overheating and heat-related illnesses this summer. When the temperatures warm up, there are some things you can do like wearing loose, lightweight clothing and drinking plenty of fluids. Avoid alcoholic beverages and other drinks that dehydrate you.
If you plan to be outside, let your body acclimate to the heat and avoid sunburns by wearing a hat and applying sunscreen. Never leave children or pets in a parked car. Remember to pay attention to your body and seek a cooler location if you experience symptoms related to heat exposure.