The Other Guy, Not Me!

July 19, 2016

There are many forms of heat-related illness. We always think “it” happens to “the other guy, not me.” But heat-related illness takes many forms and can happen quickly to anyone. Some groups are more vulnerable and include the very old, the very young, those with chronic illness, the obese and people who work outdoors.

Heat-related illness can range from uncomfortable to life threatening.  It can affect anyone of any age.  Mild reactions to heat include discomfort, irritability, sluggishness, impaired judgement and sweating.  Heat rash is an example of a mild reaction that can itch and cause discomfort. The best treatment for mild reactions is to cool off!  A tepid shower, air conditioning if possible, and relaxation will facilitate the cool-down.  Remember to drink plenty of water. 

Heat cramps may be the first sign of a heat-related illness. This happens when you loses water and electrolytes from your body. Heat edema is a swelling in the legs and hands that can occur when you sit or stand in a hot environment for a period of time. Don’t ignore these conditions. Get out of the heat, drink water, cool down and rest.

Heat syncope can occur when a person puts forth-sudden effort or has a sudden exposure to unusual heat.  In this reaction, a person may feel dizzy, experience a drop in blood pressure and pulse, or suddenly faint.  Skin will be cool and sweaty.  The treatment is to get out of the sun, lower your head between your knees for a few minutes, and drink plenty of fluids. 

Heat exhaustion (also called heat prostration) is a more serious reaction to heat, although most people recover without medical help.  Symptoms can include headache, heavy sweating, weakness, tiredness, nausea, extreme thirst, muscle cramps and/or spasms, fainting or vomiting.  Usually, the skin feels cold, pale and clammy. Body temperature (by thermometer) does not rise very much.  If you experience any combination of these symptoms, get out of the sun and cool off! Loosen clothing, apply cool, wet cloths to the skin and sip water. If vomiting persists, get medical help.   

Heat stroke (or sunstroke) is very severe reaction to the heat, which requires immediate medical attention.  Body temperature (by thermometer) rises, usually higher than 103 degrees F (known as hyperthermia).  With heat stroke, the victim cannot sweat because the sweating mechanism has stopped working.  Therefore, the body is hot, red and dry to touch, while the arms and legs may be cold.  The skin may look pale or mottled (like marble.)  A shaking chill or quivering of the arm and legs may also occur.  Heat stroke can strike without warning.  The pulse may be rapid and strong. Sometimes, the person may first experience a headache, dizziness, visual disturbances, nausea and/or vomiting.  More severe symptoms include rapid breathing and pulse or unconsciousness.  Without medical attention for heat stroke, the person may go into shock and/or die.  While waiting for emergency help to arrive, keep the person cool by moving to the shade, and reducing their body temperature by wrapping them in a wet towel or wet clothing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, you should not give fluids.  

People who work outdoors are more likely to become dehydrated and are more likely to get heat-related illness. Stop all activity and get to a cool environment if you feel faint or weak. Drink plenty of water and take cool-down breaks. Visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/ for more information.

Heat-related illness can happen to anyone. In summer’s heat, it is best to remember to drink extra water, take cool down periods, stay out of the sun, and pace your activities.  Avoid alcohol.  It acts like a diuretic (which takes fluids out of your body) and can contribute to dehydration.  This information was compiled from the CDC and WebMD. For written information, District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call QVHD 203 248-4528.