Recognize and Prevent Heat-Related Conditions
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
Spring-cleaning has nothing on summer labor. The yard needs attention, the attic needs to be cleaned out (so does the basement), a community garden needs volunteers and why not add a run around the block in the heat of the afternoon to round out your to-do list?
Warm weather is beckoning us outdoors, but we need to prepare our bodies before giving the summer everything we’ve got. This week, I’m covering the causes, signs and symptoms of heatstroke and other heat related conditions.
Even when we exert ourselves in the comfort of an air-conditioned gym, our body temperature rises. To do the work we ask of them, our muscles burn fat and carbohydrates. The chemical reactions converting the fuel of fat and carbs to energy create heat. The muscles warm first and then the blood circulating through them , producing the rise in core temperature.
The slight rise in temperature that makes us break a sweat tells us that our body is hard at work. But when we exert ourselves in the heat and humidity of summer or simply expose ourselves to high temperatures for too long, we run the risk of heatstroke.
When body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re having a heatstroke. Children and adults over 65 share an increased risk of heatstroke. Both groups adjust more slowly to high temperatures outside.
Children are loath to take breaks to cool off when they’re having fun, but produce more heat and less sweat during activity than adults do. People over 65 are more likely to be on prescription drugs or have a chronic health condition that affects how their bodies respond to heat. Health conditions, such as heart and lung disease, being overweight or lacking physical fitness also increase your risk of heatstroke.
Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are the first conditions you may suffercan often treat at home. Heat cramps usually occur in the stomach, arms or legs. They’re accompanied by excess sweating, fatigue and thirst. If you’ve ever been on a strenuous run on asphalt on a hot afternoon, you probably remember feeling this way. (Heat cramps are also caused by exposure to high temperatures.) If you’re experiencing heat cramps, find a shady cool spot or head to an air-conditioned area, drink water and a drink with electrolytes, such as Gatorade, and rest until you feel recovered.
If you don’t treat heat cramps, you will progress to heat exhaustion. All the symptoms of heat cramps will persist and be joined by nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness as well as a headache. Heat exhaustion can often be cured with the same treatments used for heat cramps, though the addition of a cool shower may be in order. If symptoms continue, seek medical attention.
Heatstroke is the most severe heat-induced condition and requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms include a 104-degree body temperature, all the symptoms listed above for heat cramps and heat exhaustion, as well as rapid breathing, a racing pulse, flushed skin, vomiting, irritability, confusion, unconsciousness, and a lack of sweating. (Skin may be moist when heatstroke is brought on by physical activity.)
If you notice these symptoms in a friend or loved one, call 911 and take action to cool down the afflicted person. Put them in a cold bath and turn on a fan if you have access. If you’re outside, move them to a shady area and soak them with cool water from a garden hose. Remove extra clothing. If there’s low humidity, wrap them in a wet, cold sheet and fan them. Monitor their body temperature until help arrives.
You can avoid heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion by taking these precautions.
• Drink water! Stay hydrated so your body is better equipped to handle heat.
• Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
• Condition yourself by easing into regular activity in hot weather, and scale back activity during the hottest part of the day.
• Take a break in the shade with a glass of water or Gatorade when you start to feel fatigued or thirsty.
Our bodies are as resilient as they are fragile. We can run a marathon or complete a triathlon — two sporting odysseys — yet a few degrees difference in body temperature can make us terribly ill. Summer can be a glorious break from our normal routine warm weather often encourages us to be more active. This summer, remember to enjoy the season safely!