With summer comes heat - but while the warmth feels great after a Pennsylvania winter, the heat brings it own challenges. And our team knows that Western PA residents are likely to spend more time outdoors during this time of year. From trips to the Strip to paddles down the rivers to hikes in local woods and mountain ranges, there’s plenty to enjoy outside – and ample opportunity to suffer from heat related illness.
Fortunately, some essential knowledge of heat-related illnesses can go a long way when a heat related emergency strikes - and more importantly, can help you avoid a bad situation altogether! Here’s what you need to know this summer:
What is heat-related illness?
Heat-related illness occurs when the body cannot cool itself down, usually during prolonged exposure to high heat and humidity. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are the three most common problems that arise. And heat stroke – the most severe of these – even causes the part of the brain that normally regulates body temperature to malfunction, decreasing our ability to sweat.
Who is most severely affected by heat-related illness?
Children, older adults, people with heart disease, people who are obese or alcoholic, and anyone who is already ill or injured will feel the effects of heat the fastest. Someone who is exercising in the heat is also at risk, meaning you can be in good shape and still suffer heat-related illness if the warning signs are overlooked or ignored.
Which activities can increase my risk?
Exercising in the heat is a big contributor to heat illness. Drinking alcohol, not drinking enough water, and wearing too much clothing during exposure to the heat also makes it difficult for your body to regulate its temperature. And certain medicines, sweat gland problems, and generally being unfamiliar with high heat can increase the chances of a heat emergency as well.
What are the signs of heat-related illness?
The three most common heat related illnesses each have similar but differing symptoms. Be sure to monitor for all of them this season:
- Heat Cramps. Look out for muscle cramps and pains, most often in the abdomen and legs. Very heavy sweating, fatigue, and thirst often accompany the cramps.
- Heat Exhaustion. Headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, and/or vomiting can all indicate heat exhaustion. Additionally your skin may become cool and moist, and your urine will darken due to dehydration.
- Heat Stroke (Sunstroke). Someone with heat stroke will have a temperature above 104 degrees. They may exhibit irrational behavior and extreme confusion, their breathing will be shallow, and their pulse will be weak and rapid. Someone with heat stroke is at risk of seizures and becoming unconscious. (Call 9-1-1 or a local emergency number immediately should these symptoms develop!)
What should I do if someone I’m with is showing signs of heat-related illness?
If someone develops cramps or exhaustion, you should get this person to a cool place and have them lie down. If possible, raise their feet about 12 inches and apply cool water to their skin. A cold compress to the neck, armpits, and groin will help, too. If the person is alert, allow them to sip water, or a salted sports drink, if available. Never give someone with signs of heat illness medication that typically reduces fever. They won’t help and may cause more harm than good.
If a person shows signs of shock, severe confusion, high fever, or if they lose consciousness, call 9-1-1.
What else can I do to address and prevent heat illnesses?
When venturing out into the heat, you should always make sure everyone - especially those at special risk - has enough water and protection from the sun to stay hydrated, avoiding sunburn, and stay cooler in general. You should also make it a priority to pinpoint shady areas, facilities with air conditioning and water, and places to sit in case of an emergency or the need to rest. Respect your limits and never push yourself while you’re outside! Enjoying your outdoor activities at a proper pace, and with breaks, will go a long way in helping you maintain your cool.
Do you have questions or concerns about the heat and how it may affect yourself or a family member this season? Don’t hesitate to make appointment with one of Genesis Medical’s practices and staff. We’re here to help address your specific needs and questions, and to help you and your family have an enjoyable and healthy summer!