Now that summer is near, I thought today would be an appropriate day to talk about some dangers of exposure to hot weather like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In order to avoid the dangers of heat exposure, there are some common sense recommendations such as scheduling outdoor activities during the cooler morning and evening hours, wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing, drink plenty of fluids, but avoid fluids with high sugar content or alcohol, as these can cause dehydration. If you travel to a climate that is hot and dry, allow your body time to adjust to the climate before you exert yourself during the midday hours. In addition, be aware that certain medications that may cause fluid loss, decrease sweating, or slow the heart rate may increase the risk of heat problems. These medications include many used to treat depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and coughs and colds. Those most at risk for heat problems are the very young and elderly.
Heat stroke is basically untreated heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion symptoms include pale, cool, clammy skin, profuse sweating, dizziness and lightheadedness, and a core temperature between 100 and 104. Heat stroke symptoms include flushed, hot, dry skin, no sweating due to dehydration, core temperature above 104, fainting, confusion, coma, elevated or very low blood pressure, and rapid respiratory rate. Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke may present with nausea, flushing, headache, dizziness, weakness, extreme thirst, rapid heart rate, and muscle cramps. Among the cells in the body most susceptible to heat are brain cells. In addition, the heart must work harder to push blood to hot skin. Sweating cools the body because the evaporation of sweat causes the skin to cool but sweating also leads to further dehydration and loss of electrolytes and minerals that are vital to the body. As the humidity increases, the rate of evaporation of sweat decreases.
While heat exhaustion can be treated without needing a hospital visit, heat stroke patients must be sent to the emergency room as intravenous fluids and other hospital treatments are usually required. Basic treatment for heat exhaustion or heat stroke (while waiting for an ambulance) include removing the person from the heat, removing clothing to promote cooling, apply cold, wet cloths or ice to the skin, especially in the neck, armpit, and groin areas where large blood vessels are located, lie the person on their side to avoid aspiration, and avoid aspirin or Tylenol as they do not promote cooling. A person with heat exhaustion should be given cool sports drinks, but a person with heat stroke should only be given sips of water if they are conscious and alert. Despite aggressive treatment, heat stroke can damage multiple organs in the body and it can leave individuals with permanent neurological damage or cause death if not treated early enough.
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