Beware of heat-related illnesses as temperatures soar
As the heat intensifies this week, it's important to keep an eye out for potential dangers. I'm talking about heat exhaustion or heat strokes. Both can quickly become fatal, so it's important to recognize some key signs and symptoms and know exactly what to do.
As the mercury rises, our bodies can sometimes lose its ability to maintain a normal temperature. Certain diseases or conditions may increase your risk of heat related illnesses, but especially pay attention to the little ones who are younger than four and those over 65. These age groups are at an increased risk for heat related illnesses since they can have trouble regulating body temperature. It can be especially difficult to get our small children to come inside, so it's critical you know the latest information and when it's time to cool down for a bit.
While the heat can cause problems like heat rashes or muscle cramps, heat exhaustion and heat strokes can lead to much more serious permanent disabilities or even death. Heat stroke occurs when the body's temperature gets too high and the body is unable to cool itself down. And even though the body can reach temperatures up to 106 degrees, the skin can actually be dry to touch and the person actually might not be sweating. So don't be fooled or lulled into a false sense of security if you or someone is not sweating. Warning signs of heat stroke can include dizziness, confusion, nausea, or loss of consciousness. It is important to understand heat stroke — just like a neurologic stroke — is considered a medical emergency and you should call 911 immediately.
Try to move the victim out of the sun and cool them down as quickly as possible. It's important to know that while you can place them in a cool shower or sponge them with cool water, you should not give a heat stroke victim any fluids. Patients with heat stroke may be so far dehydrated that they may have seizures or lose consciousness and their ability to swallow.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat related illness and can occur in anyone out in the sun or heat for too long, including athletes training outdoors. So be sure to drink plenty of fluids if you're going up Mt. Washington for the view, or if you're biking or running over in Schenley Park. Some warning signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, cold and clammy skin to touch, nausea and vomiting, and even fainting. If you think someone is experiencing heat exhaustion, take them out of the heat and cool them down with a cool shower or bath. In heat exhaustion, you can rehydrate them by encouraging small sips of cool, nonalcoholic beverages. If symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour, seek medical attention immediately.
Summer is a great time to be outside and have fun — and definitely helps those of us who might even be vitamin D deficient. But like all good things, it's about moderation. We need to remember the simple things like taking a break from the sun and staying hydrated. Learning the warning signs and knowing how to treat heat-related illnesses can prevent serious summer harm.
Dr. John Whyte is a Health Now contributor. He is the former chief medical expert at Discovery Channel. He is a board-certified physician in Washington, D.C. and best-selling author. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @drjohnwhyte