Pool days, backyard barbecues, sporting events, flower gardens, tubing trips and park picnics are all enjoyable parts of summertime fun, especially from June to August. However, the same warm sunshine rays can be hazardous when combined with a high heat index and outdoor activities or an outside work environment.
As part of a two-part series, Lifeguard Ambulance Service, Houston County EMS, and Medstar EMS provided warnings about the dangers of a hot car, especially when an infant, child, or other individual is left inside. However in addition to cars, there are other dangers associated with hot temperatures and a high heat index.
There are three types of heat-related illness that range from mild to severe: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Lifeguard Ambulance, HCEMS, and Medstar EMS realize the importance of knowing and understanding the symptoms of each, as well as the first aid remedy and treatment (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/ and http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.html).
1. Heat Cramps: the mildest form of heat injury
i. Painful muscle cramps or spasms, especially during or after intense exercise in the heat
ii. Flushed, moist skin
i. Move to a cool place and rest
ii. Place cool cloths on skin, also fan the skin
iii. Replenish electrolytes by sipping on a sports drink or similar product
iv. Slowly and gently stretch the cramped muscles
2. Heat Exhaustion: more severe than heat cramps, occurs from loss of water and salt in the body, and a lack of proper cooling off of the body
i. Muscle cramps
ii. Heavy sweating
iii. Fever over 100.4°F
iv. Weakness, fatigue, fainting, headache
v. Cold, pale, clammy skin
vi. Nausea or vomiting
vii. Fast, weak pulse
i. Move to a cool place and rest
ii. Loosen clothing and apply wet cloths to body as much as possible
iii. Sip water and small amounts of electrolyte drinks, such as sports drinks
iv. If you vomit and it continues, seek medical attention immediately
3. Heat Stroke: most severe heat illness; occurs when body’s heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. This is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
i. High body temperature – above 103°F
ii. Hot, red, dry or moist skin
iii. Rapid and strong pulse
iv. Possible loss of consciousness
v. Headache, fatigue, confusion, or lethargy
i. Call 9-1-1 immediately – this is a medical emergency
ii. Move person to a cooler environment
iii. Remove excess clothing to reduce body heat and use cool cloths; place ice bags on armpits and groin areas
iv. Do NOT give fluids
Who is at the most risk of heat-related illnesses?
1. Infants/children under 5: the body’s ability to regulate temperature is not fully developed yet
2. Adults older than 65 or individuals with chronic medical conditions: less likely to sense and response to temperature changes
3. Outdoor workers: more opportunities to become dehydrated or be exposed to high heat/temperatures
4. Athletes: exercising in extreme heats can increase chances of becoming dehydrated, therefore becoming more susceptible to heat-related injuries
5. Tourists: or other individuals who are not used to the hot temperatures, high heat index, or humidity
How to prevent heat-related illnesses:
1. Stay hydrated: drink more water than usual, but do not wait until you are thirsty to drink water
a. Avoid alcohol, carbonated drinks, or other liquids containing high amounts of sugar
b. Remind others to drink plenty of water
2. Keep cool: keep your body temperature cool
a. Stay/go inside the air-conditioning when possible
b. Schedule outdoor activities in the early morning or evening when possible
c. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing, a hat, and sunscreen
d. Take cool showers or baths
e. Check on family, friends and neighbors to make sure they are staying cool and hydrated
f. If working outdoors is unavoidable, then take numerous breaks to cool off and stay hydrated
3. Remain informed and aware: check local weather forecasts for predicted temperatures and warnings of extreme heat
Although the individuals described above are at a greater risk of heat-related illness, anybody can be affected by heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It is vitally important to adhere to the above precautions and research more ways to keep your body cool and hydrated during times of high heat.
If you recognize that someone is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, call 9-1-1 for medical assistance.
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