Summertime typically produces the hottest temperatures of the year. And even though there can be fun in the sun, there can also be danger. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 600 persons in the US die from extreme heat each year. It can also cause damage to the brain or vital organs.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two negative side effects from having excessively hotter days this time of year, either due to heat or humidity. Either affliction can occur when the body is unable to properly cool down, which it usually does by sweating. Other risk factors can be obesity, dehydration, fever, prescription drug use, poor circulation and sunburn.
Signs for heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, vision changes, nausea and/or vomiting, muscle cramps and abdominal pains, extreme fatigue, and fainting.
Heat stroke — when the body’s temperature is 104-degrees or higher — is the deadlier of the two. Symptoms can include throbbing headaches, red, dry skin with no perspiration, confusion, rapid heartbeat, and/or loss of consciousness.
Dr. Angeline Ong-Su, MD, a family medicine physician for the Kasier Permanente Medical Center in Panorama City, said infants and young children, and the elderly ages 65 and older, can be the most vulnerable to the effects of heat exhaustion and heat stroke “Their bodies aren’t as tolerant to the temperature changes, especially with excessive heat,” she said.
Also susceptible to heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke are persons with chronic medical conditions.
To help lessen the impact from excessive heat, Ong-Su offers the following tips for those who spend much of the summer outdoors:
•Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothing;
•Use sun screen (at least SPF 15);
•Wear a hat and/or sunglasses;
•Drink plenty of fluids — but not alcohol, “which can leave you more prone to dehydration.”
If you suspect someone may be suffering from heat exhaustion, the physician said to immediately move them to a cooler area either in shade or indoors (with air conditioning if possible). Apply cool towels or cold packs to the neck, forehead or under the arms — “those areas cool the body faster,” she said. Also provide “cool” rather than “ice-cold” fluids to drink. And if they’re wearing excess layers of clothing, i.e. jackets and sweaters, the clothing should be removed.
If the person or persons don’t seem to be improving, be prepared to help them get to an urgent care facility.
If you think you’re witnessing symptoms of heat stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately, Ong-Su said. While waiting for help you should move the person to a shady area or indoors, and soak them in a cold or ice-water bath or spray them with cool water or cool air with a fan.
Do not give fluids for heat stroke if the person is or seems confused, Ong-Su said.