Keeping Your Cool: Understanding Heat Related Illness
Amy Movius MD
Tuesday, June 13, 2010
Tourists flock to Maine for the glorious summers; natives wait all year to enjoy it. However, when the temperature cranks up as in recent weeks, we all need to be careful not to get “too much of a good thing."
Heat related illness, often called “sunstroke," occurs when the body has increased heat production and decreased heat transfer to the environment. Heat related illness can be fatal in its most severe form, heatstroke. The body usually cools itself by sweating, but in very hot temperatures it may not be enough – especially when it is also humid (Maine!). Risk factors for getting ill from the heat include being in the heat too long, exercising, being old or young, being sick to begin with, and being overweight. Because the consequences are so dangerous, it is important to recognize when you, or someone else, is developing heat related illness.
Heat Cramps. Muscle pain/spasms can be one of the first signs of heat related illness. Stomach, arm, and leg cramps are most common and often happen during strenuous activity. They are most frequently seen in children. If someone develops heat cramps, follow the steps below:
1. Bring person to a cool place.
2. Give him/her water or sports beverage to drink.
3. Massage affected area gently.
4. Insist he/she wait SEVERAL HOURS after cramping is gone before doing any physical activity.
5. If cramps last more than 1 hr, seek medical attention.
Heat Exhaustion occurs when the body has lost excessive water and salts from sweating. In addition to muscle cramps, victims will have profuse perspiration, cold and pale and clammy skin, fatigue and weakness, headache, dizziness, fainting, nausea/vomiting, rapid & shallow breathing, and a fast &weak pulse. If someone develops signs of heat exhaustion, follow the steps below:
1. Follow the same steps as heat cramps listed above.
2. Take victim’s temperature (preferably rectal). If greater than 103.1 treat as for heatstroke (section below).
3. Give patient a cool bath (tub or sponge) or shower.
4. If symptoms worsen or last more than 1 hr, seek medical attention. An immediate trip to the emergency room may be needed.
HeatStroke occurs when the body temperature rises so high that cells are damaged. It is estimated that 12% of adults with heatstroke die. Body temperature can rise to 105o F or more in only 10 to 15 minutes. Victims of heatstroke cannot sweat well. Symptoms include temp 103.1oF or more, red & hot & dry skin, fast & strong pulse, nausea, dizziness, headache, confusion, loss of consciousness. If someone develops signs of heatstroke, follow the steps below:
1. Immediately call for Emergency Services and begin cooling the victim as described below.
2. Move to a cooler place.
3. Remove clothing .
4. Put cool water on the skin. This can be done by immersing in tub/shower, doing a cool sponge bath, even spraying with a garden hose.
5. Direct fan or air conditioner at victim if available.
6. Take temperature every 5 minutes, continue actively cooling until it is less than 102oF.
7. Don’t give the affected person anything to drink or put anything in their mouth. If they vomit or have a seizure, simply turn their head to the side.
As always, prevention is the best strategy. On hot days, drink plenty of fluids, replenish salt and minerals with sports drinks or other intake, and limit time and exertion in the sun - especially during the hottest midday hours.
1. HeathlyChildren.org – Heat Related Illnesses
2. Jardine. Heat Illness and Heat Stroke, Pediatrics in Review. 2007;28:249-258. doi:10.1542/pir.28-7-249