It’s July: the middle of summer and it’s hot. Heat-related illness is common and can be very serious. You should be able to enjoy your summer by spending time outdoors; just make sure you’re paying close attention to what your body is telling you.
Heat illness is caused by the body’s inability to cool itself, which is why sweating is so important. It’s the body's natural cooling process. However, our bodies can only work so hard for so long before suffering from heat-related illness. Being able to recognize the stages and symptoms of heat illness will help if it ever creeps up on you.
1). Heat Cramps can cause spontaneous muscle spasms in the body. You may also notice you’re sweating at an extremely rapid rate, much more than normal. If you experience this, get to a cool place and start pushing fluids. Water is best, but you can also hydrate with a drink like Gatorade. Also, massaging your cramps with ice will help them dissipate.
2). Heat Exhaustion can be frightening because your skin will start to feel cool and clammy to the touch. Intense sweating, dizziness, rapid/shallow breathing and feelings of disorientation are also tell-tale signs of this illness. If suffering from heat exhaustion, you need to cool down quickly. Submerge in an ice bath to drop your body temperature back down - IV fluids may even be necessary at this point.
3). Heat Stroke is the most severe stage of heat illness. You will likely feel disoriented, unsteady and lethargic. Your skin will feel hot and dry, your pulse will increase rapidly, and there may even be a drop in blood pressure accompanied by uncontrollable shaking. Don’t waste any time, because this is a serious emergency and you need to dial 911. Until medical help arrives, try to cool down very quickly with ice or an ice bath.
Facing heat-related illness is scary, so do what you can to avoid it. If being outside is an absolute must, take the time to get acclimated to the temperature. Don’t jump right into working or exercising in the heat until your body is used to it. But remember, it can take several weeks for a person’s body to adjust to extreme heat.
Pay close attention to heat exposure and certain medications. Some prescription drugs can affect the body’s ability to stay hydrated. Take extra precautions by keeping a bottle or two of water close by.
Cigarettes can also heighten heat-related illnesses. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, which can impair the body’s ability to adapt to heat.
Remember, heat illness can be prevented, but you must pay attention to the warning signs. In the frightening event you or a loved one finds yourself suffering, Touchette Regional Hospital's Emergency Department (ED) team is available 24 hours a day to provide fast, quality and compassionate medical care. The ED is equipped with medical experts and advanced technology to ensure every patient receives the best care. If heat illness knocks you off your feet this summer, you can rest assured that you will be in good hands at Touchette Regional Hospital.