Healthy Living: Heat Related Illness

Updated 9 months ago

By- Dr. Jonathan WoodHeat-related illness it real. Even in Maine, where thankfully we don’t experience months of extreme heat, we still experience hot days that can be dangerous or even fatal. Last week was a good example of this with daily temperatures repeatedly in the 90′s across the state.People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.Because heat-related deaths are preventable, people need to be aware of who is at greatest risk and what actions can be taken to prevent a heat-related illness or death. The elderly, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are at highest risk. However, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather. Gradations of heat-related illness:Heat Cramps – usually associated with strenuous activity and depletion of minerals through excessive sweating and inadequate replacement.Heat Exhaustion – can occur over time even without exercise. It results from ongoing losses without adequate replacement. Symptoms include heavy sweating, paleness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting, and fainting.Heat Stroke – the most severe form. The body loses its ability to regulate its temperature. The sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Consequently the body temperature rises rapidly, potentially resulting in critical illness and death. Symptoms include all the symptoms of heat exhaustion except the skin is red, hot, and dry. The temperature rises quickly over 103 and confusion or unconsciousness can ensue.What can you do to prevent heat-related illness?Stay Cool· Go to an air-conditioned place if at all possible. (e.g. library, mall, senior center)· Wear loose fitting, light clothing.· Avoid being outdoors and if so, rest in shady areas.· NEVER leave children (or pets) in parked cars, even if it is “not too hot” and even if the windows are cracked. Temperatures rise frighteningly fast in this environment and can quickly result in heat stroke.Stay Hydrated· Drink more water than usual. (during exercise, drink 16-32 oz per hour)· Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol, as these cause you to lose more body fluid.· Don’t wait to get thirsty – - stay ahead of it!Stay Alert:· Know your risk factors. If you are elderly or overweight or have heart disease or high blood pressure, you need to be particularly careful and wary.· Know your medications. Ask your doctor if any put you at particular risk.· Pay attention to warnings about heat waves.· Check up on relatives and neighbors who are high risk.· Pay attention to your body. Seek medical advice early if you experience symptoms of heat-related illness.Knowledge and common sense are the keys to avoiding the dangers associated with extreme heat in the summertime!For more detailed information, visit the CDC’s “Extreme Heat Prevention Guide” or the National Weather Service’s webpage on heat-related illness Adapted largely from the CDC’s website on heat-related illnesses


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