heat illness

Between ball games, cookouts, yard work, and community events, summer is a season for the outdoors. However, with the warmer days and sunny skies comes an increased risk of heat-related illnesses that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening.

So to make sure you stay safe and healthy this summer, here are a few things you need to know about heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

What Are Heat Cramps?

Heat cramps are painful muscle cramps – often in the legs, chest, and abdomen – that usually occur after intense exercise or work in a hot environment. They are thought to be caused by an electrolyte deficiency, and are characterized by a few signs:

  • Intense, brief cramps
  • Spasming or jerking muscles
  • Heavy sweating

While heat cramps can affect anyone, there are some people who may be at a higher risk. These include:

  • Infants
  • The elderly
  • Those who live without air conditioning
  • People with alcoholism
  • People on certain medications
  • People who work or exercise in hot environments

While not directly life-threatening, heat cramps can be an early warning sign of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. If you experience heat cramps, you need to:

  • Stop physical activity immediately
  • Move to a cool location, preferably indoors.
  • Hydrated with water or a sports drink
  • Wait for cramps to stop before resuming activity.

If your cramps do not get better after an hour, or if you have a heart condition, you need to seek medical attention.

What Is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to losing a large amount of water and salt through sweat. Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Heat cramps
  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, clammy, and pale skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Passing out

If you catch heat exhaustion early enough, you can take action through a handful of cooling measures. These include:

  • Stopping physical activity and moving to a cool place
  • Loosening your clothing
  • Taking a cool bath or putting a cool, damp cloth on your body
  • Hydrating

If you experience heat exhaustion, it’s best you cease physical activity for the day. However, if your symptoms persist beyond an hour, become worse, or if you start to throw up,  you will need to seek medical help immediately.

What Is Heat Stroke?

Heatstroke is a serious, life-threatening medical condition brought on by prolonged exposure to intense heat or excessive activity in a hot area. Symptoms include:

  • High body temperature of 103F or higher.
  • Hot, red skin that may be dry or damp
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Mental confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

If you see someone experiencing these symptoms, you must call 911 immediately. Delaying medical care during a heat stroke can cause serious damage to internal organs or death. Do not give the person anything to drink. Instead, move them to a cool location and use a cold compress or cool bath to lower their body temperature until medical help arrives.

Preventing Heat-Related Illness

You can prevent heat-related illnesses this summer by taking a few preventative measures. By and large, one of the most important things to do is to stay hydrated. While in hot temperatures, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. You can also use sports drinks, such as Gatorade, but be sure to avoid sodas and energy drinks.

It’s also important that you don’t overexert yourself, especially if you’re outside during the hotter parts of the day. Take frequent breaks and try to avoid long intervals of heat exposure. As always, if you start to experience any of the symptoms above, stop activity and take immediate action.

Recently, our own Dr. Jason Junkins was the featured guest on an episode of Behind The Front with Fox 6 Meteorologist J.P. Dice. Dr. Junkins went on to discuss the dangers of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. To listen, just follow this link.

For any questions or concerns related to heat illness, call the professionals at Southern Immediate Care today!

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