Hey, Central Texans, it’s hot out there! The mercury is at its peak, and whether you’re mowing the lawn, going for your routine run or starting football two-a-days, you’re much more susceptible to heat exhaustion and dehydration now than at any other time of year. Heat-related illnesses can be extremely serious and potentially fatal, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here’s some advice on treating heat exhaustion quickly.
Recognize the warning signs.
Heat cramps: As a person’s body temperature rises, heat cramps set in as a result of salt loss from heavy sweating. Symptoms at this stage also include thirst and fatigue.
Heat exhaustion: The next phase is heat exhaustion, caused by dehydration. Signs include headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, weakness, dark urine, and cool, moist skin.
Heatstroke: If heat exhaustion goes unaddressed, it can progress to heatstroke, a condition in which the body becomes unable to control its own temperature, causing it to rapidly rise. Heatstroke can lead to shock, organ failure, brain damage and even death. Symptoms that signal possible heatstroke include fever; confusion; irrational behavior; rapid, weak pulse; fast, shallow breathing; dry (with no sweat), hot and red skin; and unconsciousness.
Take cooling action fast.
Time is of the essence when it comes to heat illnesses. As soon as someone starts to show signs, do the following:
- Have the person rest in a cool place and raise his or her feet 12 inches.
- Apply cool, wet cloths to their skin and use a fan to lower body temperature.
- Give him or her cool fluids (not ice-cold) to sip. Sports beverages or a salted beverage made with one teaspoon of salt per one quart of water are best.
- For muscle cramps, massage affected areas to help them relax.
- Do not give fever-reducing medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- If the affected person is showing any symptoms of shock (confusion, seizures, bluish lips and fingernails, loss of consciousness), call 911 immediately. Also call if they have a fever over 102, a fast pulse or rapid breathing.
Prevent heat-related illnesses.
The best way to deal with heat illness is to keep it from setting in in the first place. To protect yourself when the temperature rises, do the following:
- Stay in cool areas on hot days whenever possible. Avoid going outside when the heat index is 90 degrees or higher.
- If you exercise outdoors, do it before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing made from natural fibers.
- Wear a hat or use an umbrella.
- Drink more fluids than normal, but avoid drinking alcohol or beverages that contain caffeine or excessive sugar.
Remember: As important as it is to enjoy the outdoors this summer, it is vital that you protect yourself and your loved ones from heat-related illnesses. Keep these warning signs and tips in mind, and when in doubt, seek medical attention right away.
Dr. Jon Belsher is the Chief Medical Officer for Austin-based MedSpring Urgent Care. MedSpring has numerous clinics in the Austin area.