Risks in Our Community: Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

July 3, 2018 by Liz Morgan
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We all know that the month of July is a time for fun in the sun! Many of us are flocking to vacations, pool parties, camping trips and sporting events that will occupy a large part of our time during the warmer months. These activities can be exciting, but they can often take a dangerous turn if we are not thinking about our exposure to the elements – Heat Exhaustion can strike without notice or warning, and quickly turn to the more deadly Heatstroke without treatment.

The CDC tells us that heat-related illness kills up to 600 people every year in the US alone, but we can easily avoided it if we can recognize the risk. Obvious risk factors like time of day and activity level do play a major role in the onset of heat-related illnesses, but there are other contributors that may not be as easily noticeable. Some important factors to recognize are:

1.)Using prescription medication – The elderly are especially susceptible to heat-related illness due in large part to the use of medications that are used to treat heart conditions, blood pressure or urinary problems. If you are out and about on a hot day with your grandparents or other older friends, be sure that they are properly hydrated, shaded and have frequent breaks from activity.

2.)Alcohol use – It’s safe to say that people who are on vacation or at a backyard party are usually not thinking about the risk of sun exposure as their first concern, especially once someone has had a few drinks, protection from the sun may be an afterthought. For those times this summer when the only thing on your mind is having a good time, be sure that sunscreen, shade, and hydration come first!

3.)Being overweight or obese – anyone carrying more weight can be prone to overheating quickly. As the body is expending more energy to move, it also cannot process the heat it’s taking on through thicker bodily layers. This combination can be a fast track to heat-induced issues for people who are overweight.

We know that recognizing risk factors is half the battle when it comes to fighting heat-related illness, but the other half is being able to identify heat exhaustion and heatstroke in time to avoid permanent physical consequences.

 

Heat Exhaustion

 

Heat Exhaustion can be thought of as the precursor to Heatstroke, and though it is less serious, treatment should be rendered immediately if you see someone displaying symptoms.  Identifiable symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • Muscle cramping
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Headache

 

The best treatment for Heat Exhaustion is to help that person to cool themselves and lower their body temperature. A person suffering from mild Heat Exhaustion can recover if they take the steps rest and thoroughly rehydrate – move into the shade, remove excess clothing, drink water or a sports drink, and run cold water over the skin if it’s available. If the symptoms do not improve within an hour, it’s time to call a doctor.

 

Heatstroke

 

After the stages of Heat Exhaustion progress, we are now dealing with the most dangerous heat-related illness: Heatstroke, and it can be deadly. Heatstroke can cause damage to nearly every major bodily system if not treated immediately. Recognizable symptoms of Heatstroke include:

  • Hot, dry skin (this person is no longer sweating)
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

 

It is vitally important that anyone who is suffering from Heatstroke seek emergency medical attention immediately because as we mentioned before, permanent damage to the body and its functions can occur very quickly.

 

The bottom line for fun in the sun: if you’re going to be out in it, be prepared! Pack sunscreen, shady hats, and plenty of fluids. The risk of Heat-related illnesses can definitely be scary, but with awareness and knowledge, you can enjoy your summer fun knowing that you’re ready to handle the heat!

 

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