Learn to prevent heat related illnesses
Jefferson County Health Department
With the temperature nearing or exceeding 100 degrees again today, it is especially important that people understand how to prevent or decrease the risk of heat related illnesses. Prolonged exposure to heat elevates body temperature and can cause heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heatstroke.
Heat cramps are characterized by painful spasms often following strenuous exercise or muscle fatigue. Heat cramps can occur in the arms, abdomen, quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles or feet. The cause of heat cramps is thought to be due to electrolyte imbalances, and fluid loss.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses large amounts of water and salt through excessive sweating. This occurs generally with heavy manual labor or exercise. A person with heat exhaustion may have symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, nausea, fainting, headache and weakness. Heavy perspiration and cool, clammy skin are often noted. The core body temperature of a person with heat exhaustion is often within the range of 98.6-104 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually someone with heat exhaustion continues to be oriented and aware of surroundings and environmental situations. Symptoms often resolve quickly with proper treatment. Left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke and therefore must be recognized and treated early.
Heatstroke is the most serious heat related illness. Heatstroke occurs when a part of the brain loses its ability to regulate body temperature. The body’s internal temperature goes beyond 104 degrees. A person having heatstroke often appears confused, irritable, may have difficulty walking and may become comatose. A heatstroke is considered a medical emergency and without appropriate treatment can be deadly!
The treatment for heat related illnesses is dependent upon how severe the symptoms are. Generally moving the person to a cooler environment, replacing fluids orally or by IV (if necessary), and rest can reduce the symptoms of heat exhaustion. A heatstroke will require immediate medical attention. Total body cooling (ice water baths) is often necessary to cool the body’s internal core temperature, as well as IV fluid replacement. These techniques must be done at a medical facility to regulate and closely monitor core body temperature and vital signs.
Heat related illness can be prevented. Appropriate hydration and preventing dehydration are very important components to staying well in the summer heat. Increase your fluid level during the summer regardless of activity (unless your physician has restricted your fluid intake) and don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink! Limit your outdoor activity to early morning or evening hours. Wear light colored or loose clothing. Getting used to the heat gradually or acclimating oneself to extreme temperatures is also an important way to prevent heat illnesses. Education is another important way to prevent these illnesses. It is important for parents, coaches and the overall public to understand how to prevent heat related illnesses, and how to detect the warning signs of heat related illnesses.
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