Individuals suffer a heat-related illness when the body's temperature control system is overloaded and the body can no longer cool itself.
The body normally cools itself by sweating. As long as blood is flowing properly to the skin, extra heat from the body is pumped to the skin and removed by sweat evaporation. When the body’s mechanisms to decrease body heat are overwhelmed and the body is unable to tolerate the excessive heat, illness develops. Illness from heat exposure can take the following three forms: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Under extreme conditions, sweating can also result in significant fluid loss and body temperatures can rise rapidly. Consider this...the human body is 70% water. You have 5 quarts of blood running through your system. Walking through the desert in the heat, you'd lose about a quart of water an hour. Five hours without water can be deadly!
Common symptoms of a heat-related illness include:
- Heavy sweating
- Shallow breathing
- Rapid but weakened pulse rate
- If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it may progress to heat stroke, a severe form of heat illness.
Heat-related injuries fall into three major categories:
- Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms that occur when the body loses electrolytes during profuse sweating or when inadequate electrolytes are taken into the body. They usually begin in the arms, legs or abdomen, and often precede heat exhaustion. Treatment for heat cramps is to rest in the shade, get near a fan, spray the person with water and massage the cramp.
- Heat exhaustion is a medical emergency. When a person is suffering from heat exhaustion, they will perspire profusely and most likely will be pale. It is best treated by taking the patient to a cool place, applying cool compresses, elevating the feet and giving the patient fluids (if awake and alert).
- Heat stroke is the worst heat-related injury and is deadly if left untreated. The brain has lost its ability to regulate body temperature. The patient will be hot, reddish and warm to the touch. Their temperature will be markedly high and there will be little to no perspiration. This is a medical emergency; call 911 immediately. The emergency care of heatstroke is to cool the body as quickly as possible. One of the best methods for cooling the body during a heat emergency is to wrap the patient in cool, wet sheets.
Tips to avoid a Heat-Related Illness:
- Never leave infants, children or pets inside a parked vehicle.
- Increase fluid intake, regardless of activity level. Don't wait until thirsty to drink fluids; drink more liquid than one's thirst indicates.
- Avoid "heat hangover." Continue to drink fluids even after strenuous activity. This will enable the body to maintain optimum hydration, and help prevent the after effects of heat exposure such as headaches and fatigue.
- Avoid beverages containing alcohol, caffeine or large amounts of sugar as they dehydrate the body.
- Avoid very cold beverages as they cause stomach cramps.
- Limit exercise or outdoor activity between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun is at its peak intensity. If active during this time frame, drink a minimum of 16 to 32 ounces of water each hour.
- Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, may increase the risk of heat related illness. Consult your physician if you have questions.
- Take advantage of free air conditioning! Visit shopping malls, movie theaters or the library to escape the heat for a few hours.
- When outdoors, wear a sunscreen with a minimum SPF15. Apply at least 30 minutes prior to going outdoors, and re-apply as necessary.
- Rest frequently in shady areas so that the body's temperature has a chance to recover.
- If unaccustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, gradually increase the pace and limit exercise or work time.
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
- Sunglasses to protect the eyes.
- Wide-brimmed hat to provide shade and keep the head cool.
- Take special precaution with infants and young children by dressing them in loose, cool clothing and shading their heads
Cars & Heat
When temperatures reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit, even with a window partially open, the temperature inside a car can reach 122 degrees in 20 minutes and 150 degrees in 40 minutes. In these conditions, children can die very quickly - in a matter of minutes. Infants and small children are particularly vulnerable due to their body configurations. The younger the child, the faster the onset of heatstroke and dehydration.
- 75% of the temperature rise occurs within five minutes of closing the car and leaving it.
- 90% of the temperature rise occurs within 15 minutes.
- Dark colored cars reach slightly higher temperatures than light colored cars.
- The greater the amount of glass in the car (hatchbacks, etc.) the faster the rise in temperature.
- Larger cars heat up just as fast as smaller cars.
- Having the windows down even one inch causes only a slight temperature drop.