While everyone anticipates the hotter temperatures associated with summer heatwaves, it is important to remember how dangerous the heat truly is. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat strokes can be serious hazards that arise during the warmer months. To help better understand what you can do to for preventative measures, people should understand whether they are at risk for either exertional or non-exertional heat-associated illness.
Exertional heat-associated illness affects young, healthy individuals who engage in physical activity during the heat, and can be avoided by taking frequent breaks and drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Individuals with obesity, higher consumptions of alcohol, infections, sickle cell disorders, sweat gland dysfunction, certain medications, and a history of malignant hyperthermia are at higher risk.
Individuals affected by non-exertional heat illness are those at the extremes of age, typically those under the age of four or over the age of 70. Risk factors to consider are disabilities, obesity, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, use of drugs and alcohol, and psychiatric illnesses. Individuals in this category should stay in an air-conditioned environment, ensure there is someone to check on them, drink more water than usual, and wear light, appropriate clothing.
Heat cramps are muscle cramps associated with dehydration, loss of salt and extreme environmental conditions. With heat cramps, activity can be resumed after a few hours once the cramps have passed, and after resting and rehydrating for a period of time. Dizziness, fainting, nausea and mildly heightened temperature are associated with heat exhaustion. Water, rest, and a cool shower can help alleviate those symptoms. Medical attention should be sought if symptoms are severe or if they persist greater than one hour. Of the ailments associated with extreme temperatures, heat stroke is the most dangerous of all due to the extremely heightened body temperatures. Symptoms of heat stroke can include confusion, hallucination fainting, red and hot skin, weakness and diarrhea. If someone is suspected of having a heat stroke, contact 911 immediately and try to keep them cool in a shaded area with ice packs placed on the neck, armpits and groin area.