The summer months are at the front door, and we need to be ready to greet high temps and thick humidity. Most folks are aware of the dangers of overexposure to hot conditions, and we do our best to stay hydrated and keep cool. However, it seems like every year we still have too many heat-related emergencies occurring around the country, especially in the south.
We can do better with a little education; so, herewith, a brief tutorial on heat-related emergencies.
Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke
Heat exhaustion is the more common of the two, and you have probably experienced it at some time in your life. Maybe you got a little too assertive with the yardwork on a hot day in July, and maybe you didn’t have enough to eat or drink before you started. You might have felt some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion: dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea, muscle cramps – you may have even fainted for a few seconds.
It’s not an emergency yet, and you know what to do. Get inside, cool off, drink fluids and rest a bit. Within a half hour or so, you will generally feel fine.
Heat Stroke, on the other hand, is more dangerous and requires immediate (and more aggressive) attention because core body temperature rises to much higher levels with heat stroke, often as high as 106 degrees.
Before we get into the specifics about treatment, let’s learn a little about the two types of heat stroke.
Classic vs Exertional Heat Stroke
Classic heat stroke is caused typically by prolonged exposure to high temperatures, usually over several days or even weeks. Fluids are not replaced adequately, dehydration sets in, and core body temperature begins to rise sharply. In most cases, the victims of classic heat stroke are very young children and the elderly.
Exertional heat stroke (EHS) comes on much more quickly. It usually occurs when someone is involved in vigorous outdoor activity on a hot day for an hour or longer. The cases we most often hear about are high school and college athletes practicing or playing sports outdoors during the summer. The combination of exposure to extreme heat, lack of fluids, and strenuous exercise creates the conditions for exertional heat stroke.
With both types of heat stroke, quick recognition of symptoms and prompt treatment are critical. Symptoms include:
• Loss of consciousness or seizure
• Lack of coordination
• Red/flushed sweaty skin
Treatment is straightforward: call 911 and then work to reduce the person’s core body temperature as quickly as possible. Get the victim out of the sun, remove restrictive clothing, and get the person into a tub of cold water, or even a lake or river. You can also douse the victim with cold water and fan vigorously while water is applied.
It is vital to reduce body temperature as quickly as possible; organ damage across all body systems can begin to take place within minutes, which may lead to death. Keep working to reduce body temperature until EMS arrives.
Let’s play it safe this summer. Keep hydrated and eat appropriately before any activity in the heat. Move to a cool area and drink fluids if you feel heat exposure symptoms coming on. Be aware when someone is displaying the signs of heat stroke, and take quick action to help that person.
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