Hot Weather Illnesses: Know the Symptoms and Protect Yourself!

Summer’s hot temperatures offer special dangers for those who work or play outdoors. Extended periods of time in the mid-day heat can cause severe dehydration, heat stroke and even death. Even if you are accustomed to being outdoors in the heat, you should be alert to symptoms of overheating and be prepared to go indoors and apply the remedies. Failure to do so could mean an extended stay in the hospital or worse.

Understanding Dehydration
The human body depends on water to regulate temperatures. In intense heat, the body uses up its reserves of moisture by cooling itself. Unless this moisture is replenished continuously, the chemistry of the body becomes unbalanced, which can lead to serious consequences. Symptoms of dehydration include fever, dry mouth, swollen tongue, palpitations, confusion, inability to sweat, decreased urine output and fainting. If not treated immediately, dehydration can lead to death. Always carry additional water if you will be out in the heat for more than 30 minutes. Even this short amount of time can cause dehydration in sensitive individuals such as babies or older people. Continuously sip water when out in hot temperatures and alternate with electrolyte drinks to replenish salts.

Dealing With Heat Cramps
Heat cramps are muscle spasms that strike the arms, legs or abdomen after a period of exertion in high temperatures. It often strikes athletes that exercise outdoors. It occurs when excessive sweating releases important electrolytes from the blood, including sodium, magnesium and potassium. This deficiency causes the muscles to malfunction.
When heat cramps occur, you should stop all activity and rest. Drink an electrolyte sports drink or make your own drink by adding ¼ teaspoon of salt to a quart of drinking water. Stretch the cramping muscle until the cramping ceases. Seek medical attention if the muscles will not relax. To prevent heat cramps, hydrate periodically, allow your body to adjust to the heat and avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day.

Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is a hot weather illness often associated with high heat and humidity, as well as strenuous exercise. It can lead to the more serious condition of heat stroke if not treated. Symptoms include cool, moist skin with goose bumps, heavy sweating, dizziness, faintness, weak pulse, muscle cramps and headache. To treat heat exhaustion, stop all activity and retreat to a cooler place. Drink cool water or electrolyte drinks and rest until the symptoms subside. Prevent heat exhaustion from occurring by wearing loose, lightweight clothing, wearing sunscreen to prevent sunburn, drink plenty of fluids and periodically rest in shade or an air-conditioned area.

Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a condition that occurs when the body temperature becomes elevated to a dangerous level. Also called hyperthermia, it most often strikes the young, the old, athletes, those with serious medical conditions and those who work outdoors in the heat. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, weakness, fatigue, dizziness and muscle cramps. Hallucinations and disorientation can occur. Heat stroke can lead to seizures and coma. The most critical action you can take when you suspect heat stroke is to cool the person immediately but getting them into the shade and wetting down the head, neck and body. Loosen or remove clothing. Have the person drink fluids that do not contain alcohol or caffeine. To prevent heat stroke, limit activities, wear lightweight clothing, replenish electrolytes and take frequent breaks.

Heat Rashes
A less dangerous but still annoying problem of hot weather is heat rash. Heat rash can cause redness and irritation in the folds of skin or where clothing rubs against the skin. Another type of heat rash causes fluid-filled blisters in the area where sweat glands are located. A third type of heat rash can develop after bouts of skin irritation from the heat. This type produces hard, flesh-colored bumps. Rapid pulse, dizziness and nausea can develop. Keep the skin dry and soothe with talcum or healing ointment. If the area shows increased swelling or warmth or has pus draining from lesions, see your doctor for proper treatment.

You can prevent most heat-related illnesses by respecting the heat and paying attention to the signals your body gives. Regular water consumption and taking frequent rest breaks in the shade can save your life.

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