Extreme heat can cause heat related illness

Emergency department physician emphasizes precautions

GRAND BLANC — Summer weather is upon us with higher temperatures and increased humidity. According to the CDC, every year, more than 600 people in the U.S. die of heat-related illness and many others experience hospitalization.

It’s crucial that people take precautions against prolonged or intense exposure to hot temperatures that can cause heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke.

The body has several ways to deal with excess heat. The first way is through the skin by releasing internal heat to the surface. The second way is through breathing, where body-temperature air is exhaled and replaced by cooler, inhaled air. The third, and most important, is through sweating. Water in sweat evaporates, taking heat with it and cooling the skin. When the body can’t shed enough heat, its core temperature starts to rise, and serious danger can follow.

“Individuals most prone to heat illness include young athletes, elderly people and people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” says Sanford Ross, DO, emergency medicine physician at Ascension Genesys Hospital. “Symptoms can range from headache, dizziness, cramps and nausea to confusion, heavy sweating, difficulty breathing, weak pulse and passing out.”

The most serious of heat related illnesses is heat stroke, where the body’s cooling systems become overwhelmed. The body temperature rises, individuals experience a rapid heart rate, shallow breathing and significant mental status changes occur. Immediate medical treatment is needed to prevent any permanent brain and organ injury, coma and death.

“Extreme heat is especially dangerous in humid climates when sweat evaporates very slowly, losing much of its cooling effect,” explains Dr. Ross. ”Added to this, dehydration will occur when we don’t replace fluids we have lost and cool our bodies down, leading to increased heat illness.”

The best way to avoid heat illness is through prevention with these tips:

Stay in air conditioning. When possible, stay in air conditioning on hot days. If you don’t have air conditioning, head to a library, shopping mall, and other public spaces to keep cool.

Check on loved ones. Extreme heat can affect anyone of any age, including youth and adults. Be sure to check on older friends and neighbors who live alone and don’t have air conditioning.

Avoid the hottest part of the day. If you have to be outside, stick to the cooler morning and evening hours. Wear light, loose clothing and take frequent, air-conditioned breaks.

Beware of hot cars. Never leave a person or a pet in a parked car, even for a short time. On an 80-degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 100 degrees in less than 10 minutes.

Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water on hot days. Avoid alcohol and heavy meals. If you must be outdoors, drink a quart of fluid every hour or so. You can alternate water with a sports-type drink. Skip the caffeine and alcohol since they increase urination and dehydration.

Stay informed. Watch your local weather forecasts so you can plan outdoor activities safely. Pay attention to any extreme heat alerts.

If you start feeling overheated, weak, dizzy, nauseated, or have muscle cramps, you could be experiencing heat illness. Move to air conditioning, drink water, get under a fan, and put on cool washcloths. If symptoms worsen or don’t improve, seek medical treatment at the emergency room. For any concern of heat stroke, call 911 immediately.