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Heat Exhaustion  
For safety's sake, play it cool during the hot and humid days of summer.


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Heat Exhaustion
For safety's sake, play it cool during the hot and humid days of summer.

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Gerber Life Family Times Archive

HealthYou know the time of year—you awaken to temperatures in the 80s and by mid-morning the temperature on the thermometer has climbed higher into the 90s. In addition, the air, heavy with humidity, feels like a wet coat wrapped around your body during whatever time you have to be outdoors. Welcome to the "Dog Days of Summer"—that time between July and September when the hottest days of summer and stagnant air seem to join forces to test the resolve of anyone who ventures outside. Aside from the general malaise that accompanies long periods of hot weather, there are health concerns for people of all ages, especially if outdoor physical activity of any sort is involved. But face it—summer is short and families like to be outdoors and active. So, for safety's sake, everyone should be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion, know the steps to take to prevent it, and what steps to take if someone "overdoes it" in the heat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat-related illness occurs when the body's temperature control system becomes overloaded. Normally, the body cools itself by sweating but under certain conditions, sweating isn't enough to do the job. Under such conditions a person's body temperature rises very rapidly. Under high humidity conditions sweat will not evaporate as quickly and this prevents the body from releasing heat quickly. Very high body temperatures can damage the brain and other vital organs. The CDC adds that several factors may affect the body's ability to cool itself during very hot weather:

  • Alcohol use
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness
  • Obesity
  • Old age
  • Poor circulation
  • Prescription drug use
  • Youth (ages birth to 4 years of age)

The CDC states that those who are at the greatest risk of heat-related illness are children up to 4 years of age, people 65 years old and older, those who are overweight, and people who are ill or are on certain medications.

HealthThe three major health issues related to excessive heat are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and, most seriously, heat stroke. The CDC describes heat cramps as muscle pains or spasms, usually occurring in the arms, legs, or abdomen, as a result of strenuous activity during high temperatures. Those who sweat profusely during strenuous activity are prone to heat cramps since the excessive sweating depletes the body of necessary salts and moisture. Low salt levels in the muscles are the cause of the painful cramps that occur. The CDC advises those with heart problems or those who are on a low-sodium diet to seek medical attention for heat cramps. If medical attention is not necessary, the CDC advises the following steps:

  • Stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place.
  • Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.
  • Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps have subsided because further exertion could lead to more serious heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Seek medical attention if the heat cramps do not subside in 1 hour.

The next level of heat-related illness is heat exhaustion. The Mayo Clinic notes that the symptoms of heat exhaustion often begin suddenly, usually after excessive exercise, heavy perspiration, and insufficient intake of fluids. The Mayo Clinic describes the symptoms of heat exhaustion as:

  • Cool, moist, pale skin
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Headache
  • Heat cramps
  • Heavy sweating
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low-grade fever
  • Nausea
  • Rapid, weak heartbeat

If the symptoms of heat exhaustion are present, the Mayo Clinic advises:

  • Get the person out of the sun and into a shady or air-conditioned location.
  • Lay the person down and elevate the legs and feet slightly.
  • Loosen or remove the person's clothing.
  • Have the person drink cool water
  • Cool the person by spraying or sponging him or her with cool water and fanning.
  • Closely monitor the person, as heat exhaustion can quickly become heat stroke.
  • If a fever greater than 102F, fainting, confusion, or seizures occur, dial 911 or call for emergency medical assistance.

HealthThe most severe of the heat-related illnesses is heat stroke. The CDC notes that heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature can rise to 106F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. The CDC outlines the warning signs of heat stroke as:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103F)
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Throbbing headache
  • Unconsciousness

If you see any of these signs, the CDC notes you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Instruct someone to call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the person down. The CDC advises you to do the following:

  • Get the person to a shady area.
  • Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, you can lower body temperature by immersion in a tub of cool water, exposure to a cool shower, spraying with cool water from a garden hose, sponging with cool water, or, if the humidity is low, wrapping the person in a cool, wet sheet and fanning him or her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102F.
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • As always the best defense against heat-related illness is prevention, and the CDC offers the following tips:

    • Drink plenty of fluids. Don't wait until you are thirsty—drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour. Don't drink fluids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar (that can cause you to lose more body fluids) and avoid very cold drinks because they can lead to stomach cramps.
    • Replace salts and minerals your body loses through sweating. A sports beverage contains the necessary salts and minerals lost through sweating. If you are on a low-salt diet, consult with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
    • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
    • Protect your eyes with sunglasses and wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. Apply 30 minutes before going out and reapply according to package instructions.
    • Limit outdoor activities to morning and evening hours and rest often in shady areas to give your body's thermostat a chance to recover.
    • Pace yourself. Start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound or leaves you gasping for breath, stop all activity, get into a cool area, and rest.
    • Stay cool indoors. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a public space such as an indoor shopping mall, or public library. In extreme heat situations, your local health department may be able to recommend heat-relief shelters in your area.
    • Use a buddy system when working or playing in extreme heat so you can monitor each other's condition.
    • Monitor those at high risk including infants and children under 4 years old, people 65 years of age or older, those who are overweight, those who tend to overexert themselves during work or exercise outdoors, and those who are physically ill.
    • Adjust to the environment slowly to give your body a chance to get accustomed to temperature changes.
    • Never leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open. When leaving your car, double-check to make sure everyone is out of the car and do not overlook any children who may have fallen asleep in the car.

    Summer is a time for vacations, relaxation, and enjoying free time with friends and family members. As the sun brings the opportunity for enjoying outdoor activities, it can also create a stressful environment for our bodies. By following a few precautions, drinking plenty of fluids, and closely monitoring those around you, you'll be better able to relax and enjoy the sunny days of summer!

    As with any medical situation, consult with your family physician or health care provider regarding your particular situation.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—
    Mayo Clinic—

    Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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