Heat Education and Safety
As temperatures rise during the summer months the chances of falling victim to heat exhaustion or heatstroke rise drastically. Heat related ailments can be unexpected, scary, and very serious. The first line of defense to keep yourself safe in the heat is Education.
What is Heat Exhaustion?
This heat related illness is the outcome of being exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged time period and is usually accompanied by dehydration. There are two types of heat exhaustion.
The first is caused by lack of water. Symptoms include:
- Dark urine
- Light headedness
- Extreme thirst
- Heavy sweating
The second type if heat exhaustion is caused by lack of salt. The symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps & spasms
- Heavy sweating
Heat exhaustion is a forerunner for heatstroke. If ignored, a heatstroke can ensue and may cause severe trauma to several vital organs.
What is Heatstroke?
Heatstroke occurs when the body’s core temperature exceeds 104 F (40C) through physical exertion or prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Unlike heat exhaustion where the individual is sweating profusely, someone experiencing heat stroke is no longer sweating and has clammy skin. Other symptoms for this heat related illness include:
- Bright red and dry skin
- Shallow breathing
- Muscle weakness
Heatstroke requires immediate emergency treatment. If left untreated damage can occur to your nervous system, brain, kidneys, muscles and heart. The longer the symptoms are ignored the severity of damage done to your body increases. In severe cases untreated heatstroke can result in death.
Certain factors can increase your odds of falling ill in heat.
Age plays a huge role in the likelihood of experiencing heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Children under the age of four years old, as well as adults over the age of sixty five are at a much higher risk in warm temperatures.
Certain medications should not be mixed with extreme temperatures. Check with your doctor about prescription drugs before spending too much time in the heat. Specific drugs can be especially dangerous during a heat wave, and make the user more vulnerable to extreme heat including:
- Heart and blood pressure medication
Be aware of any pre-existing health conditions which may put you at a higher risk including:
- Heart, lung, and kidney disease
- Sickle cell trait
- Sunburn. Note that if a person has not been exposed to high temperatures in a long time, their body has not acclimatized to hot environments, putting them at a higher risk of heat illness.
Treatment and Prevention
Now that you know the two main heat related illnesses, their symptoms and associated risks, it is time to discuss treatment and how to avoid falling victim of either one.
Being aware of your situation and surroundings is key to prevention. If you know you will be spending plenty of time in the sun or exerting yourself in high temperatures, the best thing to do is drink plenty of water and avoid consuming alcoholic or caffeinated beverages that both cause rapid loss of fluids. Typically when you believe you have consumed enough water, you should drink even more. One should drink until they no longer feel thirsty at all. An electrolyte rich beverage such as sport drinks is also recommended as heat illnesses can also be caused by salt depletion. Loose fitting clothes are ideal for warm environments. If you start feeling ill while in the sun or warm temperatures, or notice someone showing symptoms of heat illness, it is important to remove tight fitting clothing and seek shade or cool areas. Cool showers and a cold compress can help relieve symptoms of heat exhaustion. Someone experiencing heatstroke needs to be treated immediately by health professionals.