By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Twitter: @DinwiddieMonitr
Posted: July 20, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – he thermometer has been consistently rising, heat advisories have been issued, and summer has only just begun in Central Virginia. Outdoor activities are far more common and tend to be longer in duration in the summer, as people vacation, exercise, garden, swim, and so much more. Before you and your family hit the beaches, parks, camps, sports fields and courts, and a host of other places this summer, there are common-sense warning signs, precautions, and facts that everyone should know to prevent heat-related injuries. Southside Physicians Network wants to make sure you are safe and healthy during the summer heat.
Prevention and planning are the keys to avoiding heat-related injuries and illnesses. Stay hydrated by drinking water. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing. During excessive heat, slow down and stay indoors as much as possible. Wear sunscreen. Work with a friend, and take frequent breaks. Check on family, friends, the elderly, and neighbors who may be at risk. Don’t forget pets, and make sure they have plenty of cool water and shade. If someone doesn’t have access to air conditioning, they should go to a cooler location, such as a library, mall, or movie theater, if at all possible. Check on people with no air-conditioning, the elderly, and the disabled.
“I would encourage everyone to become aware of the signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness,” said Dr. John Yosay, Primary Care Physician, Southside Physicians Network. “When a heat-related illness is suspected, it is critical for that person to cease activity immediately, and move to a cool, shaded, or indoor area. It is extremely important that action is promptly taken to cool down the individual that is overheated.”
The first sign of dangerous heat stroke or heat-related illness is often the absence of sweat. As the temperature rises, your body’s natural cooling mechanism, perspiration, evaporates and helps to cool your body. On those really hot and humid days, evaporation is slowed, and your body runs a higher risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
“Virtually all heat-related illnesses are preventable,” said Terry Smith, RN, BSN, MSN, Family Nurse Practitioner, Southside Physicians Network. “Be extra careful when the heat index is 90 degrees or above, and always drink plenty of water or fluids with electrolytes. If you have to be outdoors, take frequent breaks inside or in the shade. Heatstroke can affect people of any age or fitness level. Don’t underestimate the danger.”
Heat exhaustion usually precedes a heat stroke. If you or someone else exhibits pale skin, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or nausea, profuse sweating, rapid pulse or fast shallow breathing, or muscle weakness or cramps, get out of the heat immediately, and into a cool place. Slowly drink water or other fluids with salt or sugar. Also, move to a cool location; lie down and loosen clothing; apply cold, wet cloths; and continue to sip water. If you or the individual experiencing these symptoms has vomited, and it continues, seek medical attention immediately. Do NOT drink caffeine or alcohol, and if you don’t feel better within 30-minutes, seek medical help.
Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke if left untreated. These more-dangerous warning signs can indicate that heat stroke is imminent. Skin that feels hot and dry, but not sweaty; confusion or loss of consciousness; throbbing headache; frequent vomiting; and trouble breathing can all be signs of a heat stroke.
“Heatstroke is an emergency,” Terry Smith said. “If you think someone is experiencing symptoms, take immediate action. You must seek medical attention and dial 911 at once. Move the affected person to a cool location, reduce their body temperature with a cool bath or cloths, and do not give fluids to the affected individual. For those patients with a pre-existing heart condition, the heat presents an even higher risk. If you have a cardiac condition or chronic respiratory illness, such as asthma or COPD, avoid the heat altogether.”
Most healthy people can tolerate these occurrences with little difficulty and minor discomfort. But people with damaged or weakened hearts, the elderly, and those who are overweight can have a much harder time coping physically with extreme heat and need to take precautions against heatstroke, or even cardiac arrest. High-risk categories for heat exhaustion or stroke include people that have had a prior heart attack. Damage from a heart attack can keep the heart from pumping enough blood to get rid of heat. People with high cholesterol or arterial disease are also at risk. Cholesterol-narrowed arteries can limit blood flow to the skin. Stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and those with diabetes are also at risk. These and other conditions can dull the brain’s response to dehydration; so it may fail to send thirst signals. Drink water! Those with atrial fibrillation are at risk. The main concern for AFIB in high heat is dehydration, which can trigger an arrhythmia. It can also raise the risk of stroke and heart failure. Certain medications may also put you at risk. Medications like beta-blockers, ACE receptor blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics can exaggerate the body’s response to heat.
It’s best to consult with your own doctor about your particular fitness for activities in high heat. Most importantly, be mindful of any early symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Changes in your body or mental state, like headaches, nausea, weakness, confusion, or cool or clammy skin, are all signs that your body is not coping well with the heat! Cool down with wet cloths, compresses, or ideally, in a cooler, air-conditioned space. If in doubt, don’t risk it. Call 911, especially if you are alone.
Summer is amazing and can be one of the most enjoyable times of the entire year, with a new adventure around every corner. Vacations, swimming, boating, camping, s’ mores, fireflies, and so much more; enjoy every minute of your summer and make memories that will last you and your family a lifetime. While you share so many new and exciting adventures this summer, be sure to remember the precautions and warning signs for heat-related injuries from Southside Physicians Network, and stay safe.
“The best advice I have for staying safe is to be prepared,” Dr. Yosay remarked. “Be sure you are well hydrated, wear loose-fitting light-colored clothing, and avoid strenuous activity during extreme temperatures.”