Extreme Heat and You

Thursday, December 13th 2007, 10:55 am
By: News 9

Oklahomans know all too well that it gets hot in Oklahoma. As the mercury rises, so too do your chances of a heat-related illness, like heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps. It does not take long for high temperatures to cause serious health problems.

In extreme heat your body cools itself by sweating, but in some instances sweating isn't enough. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat fast enough. In these cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly, and very high body temperatures can be hazardous to your health causing damage to vital organs, including the brain. It can even lead to death.

Heat-related deaths can be prevented. You should keep the following tips in mind when working, exercising or having fun in the Oklahoma summer sun.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and limiting alcoholic and sugary beverages. Alcohol and sugar can cause you to lose more body fluid.
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activities during the peak sun hours, which are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle. Temperatures in a vehicle rise rapidly on sunny days.
  • Monitor those at high risk especially the young, elderly, physically ill and your pets.
  • Stay cool by staying indoors. If your home does not have air conditioning go to the shopping mall or public library.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when the body is not able to regulate its temperature. The body's temperature rises rapidly, sometimes up to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. When your body goes into heat stroke, your sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down.

Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. The most important measures to prevent heat stroke are to avoid becoming dehydrated, and to avoid vigorous physical activities in hot and humid weather.

Warning signs of heat stroke may include:

  • High Body Temperature (above 103°F)
  • Rapid, Strong Pulse
  • Red, Hot, Dry Skin
  • Unconsciousness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Throbbing Headache
  • Nausea

If someone suffers a heat stroke, you should call 911 then cool the victim by:

  • Getting Them To A Shady Area
  • Removing Their Clothing
  • Applying Cool Or Tepid Water To Their Skin
  • Fanning Them To Promote Sweating And Evaporation

Heat Exhaustion

A more moderate form of heat-related illnesses is heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body's response to losing too much water and salt contained in sweat.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Muscle Cramps
  • Paleness
  • Heavy Sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea Or Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness

If symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour, seek medical attention immediately because if heat exhaustion is not treated it could progress into heat stroke.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. The sweating reduces the body's salt and moisture, and the low salt level in the muscles may be the cause of heat cramps.

Heat cramps occur as muscle pains or spasms usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs. They usually improve with rest, drinking water and a cool environment. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

If you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet get medical attention for heat cramps.