Heat-Related Illnesses And How To Avoid Them
People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough. In such cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Below are actions you can take to protect yourself, your family and neighbors during our excessively hot months.
Dress Appropriately. If you need to spend time outdoors, wear:
- lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.
- sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- a hat or use an umbrella to protect your head.
Take special care with infants and young children who are especially vulnerable to the heat and ensure they’re wearing:
- loose, cool clothing
- hats or use an umbrella to shade their heads and faces
- shoes to protect their feet
Apply sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher at least 30 minutes prior to going out and remember to keep reapplying.
When working outside, take the following precautions:
- Take frequent breaks.
- Try to work during the early morning hours.
- If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop all activity. Get into a cool area or at least in the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Cover your head and wear appropriate clothing.
Hikers need to take extra precautions during the summer months. The City of Phoenix has a great program to educate the public about how to prevent heat related illness when they're hiking.
- They rescue more than 200 hikers every year, often related to heat.
- The "Take a Hike. Do it Right" campaign posts signs at many trailheads reminding people to watch the weather, stay hydrated, hike with others, carry a phone and be aware that certain chronic illnesses like diabetes or heart disease can make people more vulnerable to heat.
- The City of Phoenix actually passed an ordinance that you can't take a dog hiking when the temperature is over 100 degrees.
- If you’re at home and indoors with high temperatures, wear as little clothing as possible.
- Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperatures hit the high 90s, they will not prevent heat-related illness!
- Stay in air conditioned space; if your home isn't then go to a shopping mall or public library nearby. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back out into the heat.
- Take frequent cool baths or showers, but do not take a shower immediately after becoming overheated - you may cool down too quickly and feel ill or dizzy.
Water is the best fluid to drink, and it is important to consume water even when you are not thirsty. Continue to drink fluids even after strenuous activity. This will enable the body to maintain optimum hydration and help prevent the aftereffects of heat exposure such as headaches and fatigue.
- liquids with large amounts of sugar, alcohol or caffeine products as they may dehydrate you further.
- very cold beverages as they cause stomach cramps.
- salt tablets, unless directed by your doctor. Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced.
- some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, may increase the risk of heat-related illness. Consult your physician if you have questions.
Check on Others
- Check on your neighbors to ensure they have access to air conditioning and enough water.
- Check your car before locking. Never leave children or pets in a parked vehicle!
Recognize the Signs of Heat-Related Illness
Who's at Risk?
Everyone! Although anyone can potentially be at risk during our summer heat season, children, elderly and animals are extremely susceptible to heat illnesses.
Other high risk persons include those who are:
- experiencing homelessness
- ill and/or on certain medications
- using substances
- working outdoors (adults and young adults)
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:
- An Extremely High Body Temperature (Above 103°F)
- Rapid, Strong Pulse
- Red, Hot and Dry Skin (No Sweating)
- Throbbing Headache
What to Do
If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim. Do the following:
- Get the victim to a shady area.
- Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
- Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
- If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
- Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
- Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure, and those working or exercising in a hot environment.
Warning signs of heat exhaustion vary but may include the following:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
The skin may be cool and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. See medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.
What to Do
- Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
- Seek an air-conditioned environment.
- Wear lightweight clothing.
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms - usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs - that may occur in association with strenuous activity. People who sweat a lot during strenuous activity are prone to heat cramps. This sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. If you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet, seek medical attention for heat cramps.
What to Do
If medical attention is not necessary, take the following steps:
- Stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place.
- Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.
- Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour.
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in young children. Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. It is more likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
What to Do
The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid environment. Keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort.