Help avoid deadly heat stroke
By M.J. Ellington
MONTGOMERY — If your holiday festivities or your job puts you in hot places for
too long a time, you may
end up with health problems involving a lot more than sunburn.
If exposure to this summer’s super-heated temperatures leads to heat stroke, you
stand a 50 percent chance of dying, said Dr. Jack Hataway, director of the Chronic Disease Prevention Division of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
He said awareness of health-related symptoms helps prevent heat stroke.
“Imagine the ditch digger or roofer working in intensely hot conditions this summer or the older person whose internal thermo-regulator no longer works properly,” Dr. Hataway said.
All are at risk for heat stroke, and Dr. Hataway said once heat-related damage reaches the stage of heat stroke, then the health consequences are “catastrophic.”
In heat stroke, Dr. Hataway said, the body’s temperature regulators are overloaded, causing blood clots and organ failure.
Older people in particular may not realize they are becoming seriously overheated and may need family members to remind them to turn on the air conditioner, even if they do so only for a few hours each day, he said.
Heat stroke is the most serious of the heat-related illnesses, Dr. Hataway said.
In heat stroke, the body cannot control its own temperature and loses its ability to produce sweat.
Without its natural cooling mechanism, the body’s temperature rises to 106 degrees or higher within 15 minutes.
Without emergency treatment, Dr. Hataway said, a victim might die or be permanently disabled.
With heat cramps, the victim has muscle pains or spasms, usually in the abdomen, arms or legs.
Heat cramps often occur with strenuous activity, he said, and they occur more in people who sweat a lot.
Firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage can help relieve symptoms, he said. Sips of water every 15 minutes to re-hydrate the body also helps.
Heat exhaustion is milder and often occurs after exposure to several days of high temperatures without drinking the right amount of liquids.
People who work in hot environments, who are elderly or who have high blood pressure are most prone to heat exhaustion.
Seek medical help for symptoms of heat exhaustion that last longer than one hour. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, Dr. Hataway said.
People who take certain medications are also at increased risk for heat-related illness or death, he said.
Such medications include tranquilizers, diuretics, drugs for behavior problems and drugs for Parkinson’s disease.
Warning signs of heat stroke:
Extremely high body temperature (above 103).
Red, hot and dry skin with no sweating.
Rapid, strong pulse.
Call 911 for help. While you wait for emergency help:
Get the person to a shady area.
Cool rapidly in a tub of cool water, cool shower or spray from a garden hose.
Splash with cool water or, if the humidity is low, place in a cool, wet sheet.
Monitor body temperature.
Continue cooling efforts until body temperature drops to 101 or 102.
If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call a hospital emergency room for further instructions.
Warning signs of heat exhaustion:
Heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fainting.
Skin that feels cool and moist.
Fast, weak pulse rate.
Fast, shallow breathing.
What to do for heat exhaustion:
Stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place.
Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.
Seek medical attention if cramps do not stop in one hour.
Stay healthy in the heat:
Drink more fluids.
Avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine.
Stay indoors, ideally in an air-conditioned place.
Take a cool shower or bath.
Reduce or eliminate strenuous activities during the hottest time of the day.
Protect yourself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
Never leave pets or people in a parked vehicle.
Although anyone at any age can suffer heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. People 65 or older are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses and complications that can result during periods of high temperatures and humidity.
Dr. Jack Hataway
Alabama Department of Public Health
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