Heat Illness Precautions 04 Jul 12

As summer temperatures soar, keep in mind how to avoid becoming a victim of heat related illness. Heat illness happens when the body can’t cool itself. When the body’s temperature control systems of perspiration and circulation are overloaded, or when the body cannot restore fluids and salt lost through sweating, the temperature of the body’s inner core begins to rise. This rise may lead to heat-related illness.

Wright County Public Health asks family and neighbors to check on those without a cooling source to make sure they can stay cool and are drinking plenty of fluids. Seniors, children up to four years of age, people with physical disabilities or behavioral health problems, and those on certain medications or drugs, are particularly at risk for heat reactions, especially during extremely hot weather.

Infants and children up to four years of age are at risk for heat-related illness because their small bodies cannot regulate body heat as well as older children or adults. They might not be able to escape hot places. Every summer there are tragic reports of young children who die of heatstroke because they are left in locked vehicles for a short time. Never leave children (or pets) alone in a vehicle.

Even young and healthy individuals can become ill if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather. Knowing how to avoid a heat illness is the best prevention. Air conditioning is the best defense against extreme heat, even if for just a few hours a day. Consider visiting a shopping mall, public library, movie theater, or other public building with cool air for a few hours. Taking a cool shower or bath can also provide relief. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, they may not prevent heat-related illness.

Prevention
Heat related illness can be avoided.

- Eliminate strenuous activity on unusually hot days.
– Wear loose, non-restrictive, single layers of clothing.
– Drink plenty of fluids such as water and juice.
– Avoid consuming alcohol, coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
– Take periodic rests in cool areas when needed.
– Check on people living in non air conditioned buildings.
– Be sure they have air circulating throughout the area.
– Most importantly, if someone is having a heat related emergency, seek immediate medical attention.

Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion occurs when a person is exposed to high temperatures while doing strenuous work. As people continue their activity, like working outdoors or exercising, the body tries to cool itself by sweating. Heat exhaustion occurs when body fluid levels drop. Increasing fluid intake can help prevent heat exhaustion. Living in a non-air conditioned building or one with poor ventilation can also lead to heat exhaustion. It’s helpful to drink fluids even when you’re not thirsty to stay ahead of the body’s need for water.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion are: profuse sweating, normal to cool and moist, pale skin. Some people may feel fatigue, dizziness, faintness, and in more extreme cases, loss of consciousness.

If you notice signs of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat into the shade or into an air conditioned building. Loosen or remove layers of clothing. If the person is responsive and not nauseated, allow them to drink cool water and place them on their back with their feet elevated six to twelve inches. Massage or apply warm towels to areas that have muscle cramps. If the person is unconscious, lay them on their left side and call for emergency help by dialing 9-1-1.

Heat stroke
Heat exhaustion left untreated can lead to heat stroke, which can be very serious. During heat stroke the body cannot cool itself. Sweating doesn’t occur so the body has no natural means to cool off. As the body continues to heat up, major organs may become damaged, including the heart, lungs, and brain. Heat stroke calls for immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of heat stroke are: hot, dry, flushed skin with little or no sweating. Some people may experience weakness, confusion, twitching muscles, seizures, or loss of consciousness.

Signs of heat stroke are a signal for immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1. Go to a shaded or air conditioned area. Remove clothing and wrap the person in cool, damp towels. Continually pour cool, not cold, water over the victim. Place ice packs wrapped in a paper towel or cool moistened sponges under both armpits, wrists, ankles, on both sides of neck, and one in the groin area. Lay the person on their back with the head and shoulders elevated. Give nothing by mouth and check if the person is breathing.

The Minnesota Department of Health has an Extreme Heat webpage at www.health.state.mn.us as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.  Search for extreme heat for the latest information.