Beware heat-related illnesses this summer

Published 8:03 pm Monday, June 18, 2018

It’s gonna be a scorcher this week. With heat indexes in the 100-degree range throughout the week, the possibility for heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke and heat exhaustion is very real. Both of these are serious conditions with the potential to become life-threatening if not treated.

When the heat index hits 90 degrees or greater, and the relative humidity is at more than 60 percent, the body’s ability to cool itself is compromised. Such conditions will exist throughout the week, so its important to take precautions and recognize the symptoms of these heat-related illnesses.

Heat exhaustion is the less serious of the two, and can be caused by the lack of either water or salt in one’s body. Symptoms include confusion, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headache, cramps, nausea, pale skin, profuse sweating and rapid heartbeat.

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, it is essential to cool their bodies as quickly as possible. Bring them into an air-conditioned room. If that is not available, move them to a cool, shady spot. Treat with plenty of fluid and apply cooling measures such as ice packs or fans.

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can easily become heat stroke, a more serious condition that can result in brain damage or even death. The condition results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures, which causes the body to lose its ability to regulate its temperature. When one’s core temperature reaches 104 degrees, damage to the nervous system may occur. Common symptoms include nausea, seizures, confusion, disorientation and eventual loss of consciousness.

Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency, requiring immediate medical attention. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or transport the person to a hospital immediately. Attempt similar cooling methods as with heat exhaustion.

As with any medical condition, prevention is preferable. To help prevent heat-related illnesses, the Mayo Clinic recommends taking the following steps:

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
  • Protect against sunburn.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Take extra precautions with certain medications.
  • Never leave anyone in a parked car.
  • Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Get acclimated. Limit time working or exercising until you’re used to the temperature.
  • Be cautious if you’re at increased risk.

The high temperatures and humidity this time of year are more than just an inconvenience. If not heeded, these factors can become life-threatening. Take the time to exercise precaution against these conditions, and be prepared to recognize them when they strike. In doing so, you may help save a life.