Now that summer is here, many of us will be enjoying outside activities. The sun feels good after a long cold winter, and our bodies will appreciate the extra vitamin D. Be sure to remain alert, however, for signs of heat injury in yourself, family members and friends.
The first sign of overheating is often muscle cramps, fainting and heat exhaustion. Other common symptoms are headache, nausea, seizures, lack of sweating in high heat, rapid shallow breathing, and disorientation or confusion. Heatstroke (often called sunstroke) is the most serious form of heat injury, and it is a genuine medical emergency.
Heatstroke can damage the brain and other organs, and it can be fatal. People over 50 are the most frequent victims, but it can strike anyone. Healthy young athletes are often at risk out on a field under the hot sun.
If you suspect someone has heat stroke, call 911 or transport the person immediately to an emergency room. A delay in getting help can be deadly. If you are waiting for paramedics, move the person to a cool, shady area, or into an air-conditioned environment. Remove unnecessary clothing. Some other interventions you can try, if they are available, are:
1. Fan the person with air while wetting the skin with a sponge or a garden hose.
2. Put ice packs on armpit, groin, neck and back areas, as these are all rich with blood vessels just beneath the skin, and cooling them can reduce temperature.
3. Put the person into a shower or tub of cool water, or an ice bath.
Of course, the best way to protect yourself and others is to take preventive measures in advance. When the heat index is high, stay indoors as much as possible. If you have to go outside, wear light colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. Wear a hat, and slather on sunscreen with an SPF factor of 30 or more. Drink plenty of fluids; doctors recommend at least eight glasses of water, fruit or vegetable juice daily in normal conditions. When it is extra hot, substitute some of those glasses with an electrolyte-rich sports drink.
If you cannot avoid outdoor activity, drink plenty of fluids before going outside, then drink something every twenty minutes. Check the color of your urine; darker urine is a sign you are becoming dehydrated. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol, as they both contribute to dehydration. Of course, if you have a problem with fluid retention, epilepsy or heart, kidney or liver disease, check first with your doctor.
When you’re inside, use the air-conditioner during peak heat hours. Keep fans going, and close curtains to provide shade. If you are a senior, or know seniors who may need help staying cool, check with your local Area Agency on Aging. Most towns have programs to provide fans to people who need them.