With temperatures beginning to top out well above the 90s, heat-related illnesses become more prevalent during the summer months.
The official beginning of the summer season is Sunday, June 21, and with that comes a myriad of issues people need to be mindful of when outside during the hottest part of the day. Heat-related illnesses are common during the summer months, Minden Medical Center officials say, and if not properly managed, it can be fatal.
“If you’re going to be outside, keep cool by drinking plenty of water, aiming for 16-32 ounces of fluid per hour,” said Dr. Denise A. Webb, a physician at MMC. “If you aren’t accustomed to being in a hot environment regularly, start slowly and pace yourself – and take regular breaks from the heat indoors or in the shade. Try to avoid being outdoors during the peak hours of heat and sun exposure.”
So what is a heat-related illness? Webb says these illnesses are caused by prolonged or excessive exposure to high temperatures and dehydration. Typically, she says, when the body becomes overheated, it cools itself through sweating, but certain conditions can affect the body’s capabilities to regulate proper temperature. A few of these conditions include extreme temperatures, inadequate hydration, high humidity, high blood pressure, sunburn, prescription drug use and alcohol use.
“As your body works to cool itself under extreme or prolonged heat, blood rushes to the surface of your skin,” according to webmd.com. “This can interfere with both your physical strength and your mental capacity, leading, in some cases to serious danger.”
Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat illness, happens after prolonged, intense exposure to extreme heat, Webb says. The part of the brain that regulates body temperature malfunctions and the body temperature rises rapidly, sometimes as high as 106 degrees or higher. Without proper treatment, heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability.
Heat exhaustion, a milder heat illness, can develop after several days of exposure to hot weather or inadequate hydration, such as working or exercising outside and not drinking sufficient fluids.
People at the greatest risk for heat-related illnesses include infants and children up to four years of age, adults age 65 and older, people who are overweight, ill or are on certain medications. Outdoor workers, as well as people on low sodium diets or those suffering from chronic heart, lung or kidney conditions are also at increased risk.
“Wearing lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that breathes, and using plenty of sunscreen, also are good preventative measures to avoid heat-related illnesses,” Webb adds.
Webb says if you notice someone showing signs of possible heat stroke, call for medical assistance immediately, and take steps to cool the person experiencing the heat emergency by moving them to a cool, shaded area and applying cool water to the body by immersing them in water, spraying or sponging the skin, or wrapping the person in a cool, wet sheet. If possible, monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the victim’s temperature drops to 102 or below.
Less severe forms of heat illness can be relieved by resting quietly in a cool, shady place, drinking clear juice or a sports beverage.
For more information, or resources, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released a free mobile app that displays heat index, risks, reminders and protective measures that should be taken at corresponding heat risk levels.