You 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:
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.
The 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:
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:
If the symptoms of heat exhaustion are present, the Mayo Clinic advises:
The 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 106°F 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:
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:
As always the best defense against heat-related illness is prevention, and the CDC offers the following tips:
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.
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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