Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beating the Heat: Preventing Heat Exhaustion & Stroke

It is now officially summer time, and it is hot out there!  I checked out the country's temperature for today on weather.com.  They have a map that shows the temperature by colors.  Red is used for temperature in the 80's, and I’m guessing it's because red is associated with fire.  A darker red is used for temperatures in the 90's, and pink for 100's. 

A person's normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees.  If you get into a bath tub full of water at 98.6 degrees, it will probably feel cool to you.  If you walk into a room that is 98.6 degrees, it will feel very hot to you.  I have firsthand knowledge of this since my air conditioner went out last week and it was 90 degrees in my home.  Even my dog, Snoopy was sprawled out on the cooler hard wood floor panting away.  During these hot times it is important to be aware of heat exhaustion and heat strokes.

Heat Exhaustion is typically caused when people who are not well adjusted to heat exercise or work in a hot, humid environment. At high temperatures, the body cools itself largely through evaporation of sweat.  When it is very humid, this mechanism does not work properly.  The body loses a combination of fluids and salts called electrolytes.  When this is accompanied by an inadequate replacement of fluids, disturbances in the circulation may result that are similar to a mild form of shock.

Heat Stroke may develop rapidly.  Medical conditions or medications that impair the body's ability to sweat may predispose people to this problem.

Heat stroke happens in the following two ways:
  • The classic form occurs in people whose cooling mechanisms are impaired.
  • The exertional form occurs in previously healthy people who are undergoing strenuous activity in a hot environment.

Infants, children under the age of 4, the overweight, and the elderly are more likely to have this problem, as are those who are taking antihistamines and certain types of medication for high blood pressure, heart disease or depression.

Heat exhaustion symptoms:
  • Often pale with cool, moist skin
  • Sweating profusely
  • Muscle cramps or pain
  • Feels faint or dizzy
  • May complain of headache, weakness, thirst, and nausea
  • Core (rectal) temperature elevated-usually more than 100 F (37.7 C) and the pulse rate increase
  • Heat stroke symptoms:
  • Unconscious or has a markedly abnormal mental status (dizziness, confusion, hallucinations, or coma)
  • Flushed, hot, and dry skin (although it may be moist initially from previous sweating or from attempts to cool the person with water)
  • May have slightly elevated blood pressure at first that falls later 
  • May be hyperventilating
  • Rectal (core) temperature of 105 F (40.5 C) or more

Notify a doctor if you suspect heat exhaustion if unable to keep fluids down, or there is a change in mental status.  A heat stroke is a life threatening emergency.  Call an ambulance to be transported to the hospital.

To treat mild cases of heat exhaustion, rest in a cool shaded area, remove or loosen clothes, apply cool water to skin, and drink fluids if able to tolerate.

  • Avoid heat exhaustion by not engaging in strenuous activity in hot, humid environments. People who are not used to the heat should be particularly careful. Intersperse periods of rest in a cool environment with plenty of available fluids to drink. Avoid strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day.
  • There are many people who are employed in jobs that require working outside all or part of the day.   These people should take precautions such as drinking plenty of fluids, rest periods in shady area, I have even known people to take salt tablets and pour cold water over their bodies during the day.   I have a friend who works outdoors.  I found a cooling pack that can be worn around the head, neck or even placed in a hard hat.   When he first tried the one for his hat, he said it was too cold.   I’m not sure if he tried it again, I never heard back about it, but keeping something cool around your head and neck will help to keep the core body temperature lower and slow the overheating process.
  • Whatever the reason you have for being outside, either for fun or for work, make sure you take precautions during these hot days to keep safe and prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Today's Weather Forecast for Washington, DC

1 comment:

  1. We can always prevent or beat this by maintaining a healthy body by consuming a good amount of water, salts and other nutrients we need every day.