Prevention is Best Defense for Heat Related Illness in Hot Weather
Temperatures are expected to remain high. According to Lakes Regional Healthcare Outpatient Services Manager Lois Hawn, even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun, or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses. Hawn said, “The best defense in this type of weather is prevention.”
The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) offers the following prevention tips for avoiding heat-related illnesses.
1. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic, sugar-free fluids like water. If possible, avoid caffeinated and carbonated beverages.
• Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water. If you are thirsty, you are already low on fluids.
• When temperatures are high, drinking two to four 8-ounce glasses of cool fluid an hour will help keep
• If you drink enough fluid that you have to urinate every couple of hours or more, you are probably
keeping up with your fluid needs.
2. Salt and minerals lost through sweating can be replaced with a variety of foods and beverages:
• Re-hydration fluids like sports beverages designed for athletes and Pedialyte for young children.
• Salty foods like salted crackers, or
• Fruits, especially bananas, can help replace potassium lost in perspiration.
3. Work during the cooler times of the day and wear appropriate loose, light-weight clothing.
4. Keep up a normal diet, but avoid hot foods and heavy meals. Eat plenty of salads and fruits. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, as they can make you thirstier.
5. If working outdoors, wear sunscreen, large brimmed hats, and stay in the shade as much as possible.
6. Ventilation and air movement will help reduce heat-related illness. Use fans and air conditioning whenever possible. Take cool showers to help cool off.
7. Pace yourself. Start slowly and pick up intensity gradually. If exertion makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop the activity.
8. Take frequent breaks, at least 5 minutes each hour, to drink cool fluids and rest in a shady or air conditioned area.
9. Take care of each other. Watch the condition of co-workers or those around you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or even lose consciousness.
Overexposure to high temperatures can cause heat exhaustion, heatstroke, heat cramps, or heat rash. High humidity adds to the risk of these illnesses, making it harder to perspire, which is the body’s way of cooling off.
According to Hawn, heat exhaustion is caused by prolonged exposure to heat that results in excessive loss of fluids from heavy perspiring. Mild to moderate perspiration is good because it cools the body. However, excessive sweating depletes the body of essential electrolytes, which hinders blood circulation and the ability of the brain to function. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include fatigue, low blood pressure, and sometimes collapse.
Hawn said, “If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, replace lost fluids by drinking cool, slightly salty beverages. You should also move to a cool environment and lie flat or with your head lower than the rest of your body. Once you’re rehydrated a full recovery rapidly occurs.”
Heatstroke, also known as sunstroke, is a serious, life-threatening condition in which a person is unable to perspire enough to lower body temperature. Hawn said, “It results from a combination of high temperature and high humidity. A heatstroke victim appears confused, disoriented and flushed, and has hot, dry skin. In addition, the heart rate increases, quickly reaching 160 to 180 beats per minute, in contrast to the normal rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. The breathing rate usually increases and the body temperature also rises rapidly to 104 to 106.”
Since heatstroke can develop suddenly or gradually, immediate medical treatment is required. The victim should be taken to a hospital quickly. While waiting for emergency medical care to arrive, the heatstroke victim should be wrapped in wet bedding or clothing, immersed in a lake, stream, or cool bathtub, or cooled with ice. The victim should also be placed in a cool, shady place and given cold water with one teaspoon of salt per quart.
Heat cramps occur during physical exertion in extreme heat. They are caused by excessive loss of fluids and electrolytes and result in severe muscle spasms due to heavy sweating. Manual laborers and athletes are especially susceptible to heat cramps. If you or someone you know experiences heat cramps, drink beverages or eat foods that contain salt.
Heat rash, which is most common in young children, is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating. Symptoms include a red cluster of pimples or red blisters, and most likely occur on the neck, chest, and elbow and knee creases. Hawn said, “To alleviate heat rash, move into a cooler, less humid environment. Keep the affected area dry, but avoid using ointments or creams because they keep the skin warm and moist and might make the condition worse.”
Lakes Regional Healthcare Director of Nursing Joni Mitchell said, “It’s nice to have warm weather, but people need to avoid overexposure to heat. If health difficulties are faced during hot weather, don’t hesitate to seek healthcare quickly.”