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Extreme Heat Dangers

Last updated: Aug 09, 2018


Despite varying external temperatures, the human body maintains a fairly consistent internal temperature. To sustain this “safe” internal temperature, our bodies are constantly working to eliminate any excess heat—a function we generally aren’t aware of until we are exposed to more heat than we can handle. People tend to suffer heat-related illness when this critical function fails, and their body is unable to properly cool itself.

During the summer, high heat and humidity can become a dangerous norm. On a hot day, you may notice your body cooling itself by sweating. However, on a hot, humid day sweat does not evaporate as quickly and the body fails to release heat at a healthy rate. In this scenario, sweating simply isn’t enough, and the body’s temperature can rise quite rapidly, putting you at risk of overheating.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600 people die from heat-related complications each year. Although this is an alarmingly high number, heat-related illness and deaths are preventable. You can reduce your risk by learning the symptoms and taking just a few steps to protect yourself when the weather is hot.

 

Common Heat Health Dangers (mild to severe)

 

Heat Cramps are muscle aches or involuntary spasms that are usually due to over-exertion during extended periods of extremely hot temperatures. Fluid and electrolyte loss often contribute to heat cramps. It is important to recognize heat cramps, as they can be a precursor to other heat-related injuries and illnesses.

Symptoms:

  • pain or spasms in extremities (calves, thighs, shoulders, legs, or arms)
  • pain or spasms in abdomen (rare but can happen)

Treatment:

  • Cease activity and get out of the heat as soon as possible. Rest and drink cool, non-alcoholic fluids to replace fluid loss.

 

Heat Exhaustion is a mild form of shock caused by the body’s loss of fluid and salt. It is typically due to participation in strenuous activity in the heat.

Symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Shallow, fast breathing
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Muscle cramping
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Treatment:

  • Stop all activity and rest. Move to a cool location and replenish your fluids. Drinks with electrolytes (sports drinks) are best. Seek medical attention if needed.

 

Heat Stroke is a very serious form of heat injury that can cause damage to the brain and other organs. It typically forms from heat cramps or heat exhaustion and is considered a medical emergency.

Symptoms:

  • Core body temperature of >104° Fahrenheit and often skin is without sweat
  • Nausea
  • Neurological abnormalities: confusion, irritability, disorientation, hallucination
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

Treatment:

  • Call 911 immediately

 

Who is at risk?
 

Most heat-related complications occur when a person has been overexposed to hot conditions or has participated in strenuous activities in hot temperatures, but heat-related injury and illness can happen to anyone. Those who are at elevated risk include:

  • Elderly
  • Infants and young children
  • Those who suffer from chronic diseases
  • Those who suffer from mental illness

Other risk factors may include:

  • Obesity
  • Fever
  • Sunburn
  • Prescription drug or alcohol use
  • Dehydration
  • Poor circulation

 

How to Stay Well in the Heat: Prevention Tips

  • Drink lots of fluids (refrain from alcohol and sugary drinks)
  • Stay indoors as much as possible
  • Wear light-weight, light colors, loose-fitting clothing

 

Don't be afraid to spend some time outside but be sure to take the heat seriously. Stay well hydrated and use your best judgment to avoid any danger of overheating. And if you think you are suffering from a serious heat-related illness, do not wait. Seek immediate medical attention.

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