After the sweltering start to summer in the Concho Valley, now is a great time to review what happens when we underestimate what high levels of heat can do to our bodies.
As classified in the article, “Heat-Related Illnesses,” from John Hopkins Medicine, there are three main levels of severity when working with a heat-related illness. They are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke; each are the effects that can follow when we spend extended amounts of time in high levels of heat without resting or hydrating correctly. People who can be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses include those with existing health issues or with certain prescriptions, as well as both children, teens and older adults. The article also notes that weight and heavy clothing or uniforms can contribute to higher susceptibility as well.
While there are first-aid and at-home treatments that are recommended across the board of severity, know that there can be situations where professional medical treatment will be the best option. The article by John Hopkins recommends to always try: to rest from the activity or location and move towards a cooler area; to drink cool water or preferably, cool sports drinks with electrolytes; and to remove heavy or extra layers of clothing, as well as fanning and placing cold cloths on the skin.
Specific first aid for the different variations and severities
A recommendation for heat cramps is to do careful stretching of cramped muscles. They occur following high amounts of movement, exercise and sweating in high heat. Symptoms can include strong leg cramps and red damp skin.
If someone cannot hydrate orally, or there is no improvement after hydrating, then a trip to the emergency room is the next step for heat exhaustion as IV fluids may be needed. This level of illness comes from poor or inadequate rehydration after the intense sweating from the body’s attempts to cool off. Symptoms can include the previously mentioned, as well as an uneasy stomach, headache, fatigue, weakness and a fever over 100.4 F or 34 C.
The most severe form of heat-related illnesses is heat stroke, which demands immediate medical attention, as it is a life-threatening emergency.Heat stroke is the failure of the body’s heat-regulating system after it becomes overloaded with extended amounts of high heat. Additional symptoms include rapid heartbeat, unconsciousness and seizures, as well as altered mental and emotional status like confusion and agitation. Once again, contacting 911 or the closest emergency room is required, as there is a high risk of comas and death.
Pro Tips from Registered Nurses
While researching information and consulting with the registered nurses I work with at Schleicher County Medical Center, they recommended information from John Hopkins and gave the following tips:
Hydrating with electrolytes is best, but water is still a great choice.
When spending time outside, do it at intervals to give your body a chance to recover.
Wet towels around the neck and shoulders can help keep the skin cool.
Opt for lighter fabrics and lighter colored clothing.
Small frequent sips of fluids can go a long way.
Avoid peak heat times, 1:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. roughly.
“If you stop sweating, you’re in trouble,” one nurse said. They also noted the following symptoms as signs to start trying to get help:
Darker urine, as it signifies dehydration.
Dizziness and passing out.
Chest pain and difficulty catching your breath.
They explained that for emergency room visits, you can expect to have an IV started to help replace electrolytes and balance out your kidney functions. Your blood might also be drawn, as after some labs, it can help tell the level of dehydration. Finally, you might also receive medicine to help combat nausea and vomiting.
As serious as heat-related illnesses are, there are ways to protect yourself from the effects. Being aware of your health and any changes is always a good start in any situation, as is not hesitating to reach out for help. To avoid heat-related illnesses this summer, remember to hydrate properly and rest accordingly when working outside, and be well prepared for the usual summer outdoor activities.