Feeling the heat? A heatwave stretching across much of the U.S. has many of us seeking relief, but it’s prime time for heat-related illness to strike.
In recent years, excessive heat has caused more deaths than all other weather events, including floods, according to the American Red Cross. Our bodies lose water and salt when we perspire, which can lead to heat cramps. If not addressed, dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion leads to heatstroke, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Young children, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases are most at risk of developing heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heatstroke. Do you know how to lower your risk of heat-related illness…would you recognize the warning signs, and would you know what to do should heat-related illness strike?
Tips to Avoid Heat-Related Illness
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabric like cotton.
- When outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat.
- Choose shade over the sun on a hot day.
- Avoid strenuous exercise during a heatwave.
- Drink plenty of water or other fluids.
- If you feel overheated, take a cool shower or bath.
- Avoid sitting in a hot car or leaving your child in the car. (And that goes for pets, too!)
- Take advantage of cooling centers during a prolonged hot spell.
- Listen to weather advisories before planning outdoor events.
- Check on people who live alone, especially the elderly or ill.
Risk Factors for Heat-Related Illness
- prolonged exposure to high temperatures
- high levels of humidity
You are at increased risk if you:
- have heart disease or other chronic illness
- are drinking alcohol
- exercise excessively
- take certain medications like diuretics and beta blockers
Early Warning Signs of Heat-Related Illness
- muscle cramps
- profuse sweating
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
- dizziness and lightheadedness
- nausea and vomiting
- cool, moist skin
- dark urine
Symptoms of Heatstroke
- fast, shallow breathing
- pulse is fast and weak
- confusion and strange behavior
- skin is red, hot, and dry
- loss of consciousness
First Aid for Heat-Related Illness
- Take the victim to a cool place.
- Have them lie down with their feet up.
- Apply cool, wet cloths (or cool water alone) to their skin. Cold compresses can also help.
- If the person is conscious, have them drink water or a salted drink. Do not offer drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine.
When to Call 9-1-1
Consider it a medical emergency if the victim:
- appears to have blue lips and fingernails
- has a high fever
- has difficulty breathing
- has a seizure
- is confused or behaving irrationally
- has lost consciousness
By Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo
Photo credit: Stockbyte/Thinkstock
Sources: American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH)