Heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. Heat can be very taxing on the body. Check in with friends and relatives who fall in one of these populations as they are considered particularly vulnerable to heat:
- Young children and infants are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness and death, as their bodies are less able to adapt to heat than are adults.
- Older adults, particularly those with pre-existing diseases, take certain medications, are living alone or with limited mobility who are exposed to extreme heat can experience multiple adverse effects.
- People with chronic medical conditions are more likely to have a serious health problem during a heat wave than healthy people.
- Pregnant women also are at higher risk. Extreme heat events have been associated with adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm birth, and infant mortality, as well as congenital cataracts.
Who Is At Risk?
- Staying cool is your best defense against heat-related illness. Below are some preventive measures everyone should take.
- Avoid being outdoors in the hottest part of the day.
- If you must go out, try going out in the early morning or later evening hours when the sun is not as strong.
- Slow down activities that make you hot.
- Work and exercise in brief periods. Take frequent breaks.
- Dress in light, loose clothing. Wear a wide brimmed hat.
- Drink plenty of cool fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
At greater risk are the elderly, children, and people with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease. However, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather. Some behaviors also put people at greater risk: drinking alcohol; taking part in strenuous outdoor physical activities in hot weather; and taking medications that impair the body's ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.
Signs & Symptoms
- Severe muscle contractions, usually in the legs or abdomen
- Elevated body temperature
- Dizziness and weakness
- Rapid, weak pulse becoming irregular
- Irritable, bizarre or combative behavior
These are painful spasms usually in the leg and stomach muscles and usually accompanied by heavy sweating. They can be alleviated by moving to a cooler place and lightly massaging and stretching the affected muscles. People experiencing heat cramps should also sip up to half a glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
During heat exhaustion, a person may be sweating heavily, but their skin may be cool, pale or flushed. Other symptoms are a weak pulse, fainting, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion and headaches. Body temperature may be normal but it will likely rise. People suffering from heat exhaustion should lie down in a cool place, loosen or remove clothing and put on cool wet clothes. They should sip water slowly, about half a glass every 15 minutes. Water should be discontinued if they are nauseated. They should seek immediate medical attention if vomiting occurs.
It is also called Sun Stroke. This is a severe medical emergency that can result in death. Body temperature is high (103° F or 39.4° C) as opposed to normal body temperature of 98.5° F or 37° C, the pulse is strong and rapid, and breathing is shallow and rapid. The person suffering heat stroke may be experiencing throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, have red, hot and dry skin (not sweating), and may become unconscious. This person should be taken to a hospital as quickly as possible. Delay can be fatal. En route, keep the person as cool as possible by removing clothing and sponging with cool water.
How to Help
- Call 911
- Cool the body by bathing or sponging - water should be lukewarm to cool
- Give fluids in small sips - cool water
- Remove excess clothing and loosen existing clothing
- Move person to cooler location
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