As the weather heats up, it’s very important to take precautionary steps against the heat, but also to know the signs of heat-related illness should a problem arise.
First, always wear appropriate clothing. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. It’s also important to stay hydrated. Drink more fluids, regardless of how active you are. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Alcoholic drinks are not recommended – these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Taking a cool shower or bath is also a great way to cool off.
Next, stay cool indoors with air-conditioning on particularly hot days. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library—even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. It’s also smart to use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.
When you do go outside, try to limit your outdoor activity to when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours. Rest often in shady areas. This gives your body a chance to recover. Also remember to pace yourself. If you’re not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP. Get into a cool area or into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.
Finally, remember to wear sunscreen. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool down and can make you dehydrated. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes prior to going out.
If a problem should arise, it’s important to know the signs of heat-related illness and take action right away. If you or someone near you is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, take the appropriate action listed.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given. Symptoms include: confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech, loss of consciousness (coma), hot, dry skin or profuse sweating, seizures, very high body temperature.
- Call 911 for emergency care.
- Move to a shaded, cool area and remove outer clothing.
- Cool quickly with cold water – wet the skin, place cold, wet cloths on the skin, or soak clothing with cool water.
- Circulate the air around to speed cooling.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Most people prone to heat exhaustion are those that are elderly, have high blood pressure, and those working in a hot environment. Symptoms include: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature, decreased urine output.
- Go to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment.
- If medical care is unavailable, call 911.
- Remove from hot area and drink liquids.
- Remove unnecessary clothing, including shoes and socks.
- Cool with compresses or have the person wash head, face, and neck with cold water.
- Encourage frequent sips of cool water.
Heat syncope is a fainting (syncope) episode or dizziness that usually occurs with prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position. Factors that may contribute to heat syncope include dehydration and lack of acclimatization. Symptoms include: fainting (short duration), dizziness, light-headedness during prolonged standing or suddenly rising from a sitting or lying position.
- Sit or lie down in a cool place.
- Slowly drink water, clear juice, or a sports drink.
Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels. Low salt levels in muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. Symptoms include: muscle cramps, pain, or spasms in the abdomen, arms, or legs.
- Drink water and have a snack and/or sports drink (with electrolytes) every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Avoid salt tablets.
- Get medical help if the person has heart problems, is on a low sodium diet, or if cramps do not subside within 1 hour.
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. Symptoms include: red cluster of pimples or small blisters. Usually appears on the neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
- When possible, a cooler, less humid environment is the best treatment.
- Keep rash area dry.
- Powder may be applied to increase comfort.
- Ointments and creams should not be used.
Are you unsure if you or someone near you needs help? The 24 Hour Help Nurse for Patients and Members of Medical Associates is available to assist you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They provide a staff of professional, registered nurses available by the telephone.
Do you need advice on a medical symptom, question, or problem? Do you have questions pertaining to a medication? Do you need help determining whether your symptoms require immediate medical attention? The Patient Services – Help Nurses can assist patients and members of Medical Associates with all of these and more. Call (563) 556-4357 or 800-325-7442