We are dealing with our first big blast of summer heat this week, and along with it come health risks.
A heat stroke occurs when the body can’t cool itself down, and your body temperature rises to dangerously high levels. Not only will a patient tend to have a fever, but they may also have confusion, odd behavior, a rapid pulse, trouble breathing, seizures, and red skin that is dry to the touch. If a heat stroke is not treated quickly, it can be fatal.
Heat strokes and other conditions, like heat exhaustion and heat cramps, all fall under the heading of heat-related illness. They are essentially all on the same continuum, and just vary by degree. Heat cramps, where you get belly cramps or arm/leg cramps, are the most minor. Meanwhile, heat strokes are the most severe. But for all of these conditions, you need to cool the body down to relieve the symptoms.
The body is fundamentally designed to get rid of heat by sweating. When it’s hot and humid or when you’re doing vigorous exercise and get dehydrated, however, your body may not be able to sweat enough to dissipate the heat.
As with most things, babies, the elderly, people with underlying medical conditions like heart and lung problems, and athletes are most prone to heat strokes. Those who work outdoors and are physically exerting themselves out in the sun are also at a higher risk. In addition, there are certain medications that can increase your risk, like antihistamines, which many people are taking right now for allergies.
If someone is dizzy, confused, and vomiting, call 911. In the meantime, try to cool them down by taking off clothes, using cold packs or spritzing them with lukewarm water and fanning them off.
Another condition that can pop up in this heat is a heat rash. A heat rash develops when your pores become blocked and perspiration is trapped under your skin. You can get blisters or red lumps, and it can be itchy and prickly. Heat rash usually goes away on it’s own but you can help by cooling off to prevent sweating. While it is more popular in babies, adults can get it too.
Prevention-wise, there are a few basic things people can do to stay healthy in extremely hot weather. First of all, pay attention to the heat index, which is- contrary to popular belief- not the same as the temperature. Instead, it measures how hot it feels when you are in the shade. As it rises with the increase of humidity, a heat index of 90 degrees or more is dangerous. Try to avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day, which is generally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Make sure to also wear lightweight and light colored clothing.
While the other prevention measures are important, staying hydrated is essential in this heat. Drink plenty of water before, during and after activity. You should drink sports drinks with electrolytes or juices, and stay away from caffeine or alcohol. They increase blood flow to the skin and increase your risk of dehydration.
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