This is the time of year when people are heading to water parks and amusement parks and other outdoor activities, and it’s important to enjoy the summer and the outdoors, but do it safely. Before heading outside on a hot, sunny day, check the heat index as opposed to just the temperature; remember to take plenty of non-alcoholic beverages (alcoholic drinks act as a diuretics, causing dehydration); and wear lightweight clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect from the sun. Take care not to exert yourself, take breaks and rest periodically, seek air-conditioned locations for respite, and know a few danger signs to watch for to protect yourself and loved ones from heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat stroke is by far the most dangerous reaction to the heat and can occur rapidly. If someone is not able to deal with the heat, their body temperature can rise to 106 degrees and higher within 10-15 minutes. The person’s body loses its ability to sweat and so is unable to cool down and brain death begins to occur quickly, leading to permanent disability or even death if emergency treatment is not provided quickly.
If someone has the following symptoms in the heat, they need immediate treatment and should be taken directly to the hospital:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
- Lethargy or even unconsciousness
People in this condition need to have their temperature reduced quickly! It’s best to call 911 (EMS) immediately to have them taken to the hospital. Meanwhile, the use of ice packs can help reduce their temperature, and they need immediate fluids for rehydration. If EMS takes too long to arrive, call the hospital emergency room for further advice. A few days in the hospital may be needed, as many different body organs can fail in heat stroke.
There are some milder problems due to heat that should be watched for as well, as these problems can lead to serious conditions if left unchecked. Dehydration is by far, the most common problem of heat, leading to other serious conditions. Plenty of water is needed throughout the day and frequently while in the heat. Some of the signs of dehydration are: thirst, dry mouth, loss of appetite, fatigue or weakness, chills, dizziness, dry skin, and/or dark colored urine. Replenish fluids quickly with water or sports drinks.
Another heat condition is heat exhaustion. This milder problem of the heat occurs usually after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid intake. Symptoms can include heavy sweating, tiredness, weakness, paleness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fast and shallow breathing, fast and weak pulse, fainting, and a moderately increased temperature (101-102 degrees F). Getting the person to a cool environment or cooling them down with ice packs, getting them to rest and giving them plenty of fluids can help, but if exhaustion is severe, the person may need IV fluids.
Heat and dehydration can also cause cramps that occur in the calf muscles that are forceful and painful. These usually improve with rest, fluids and a cool environment.
If you have elderly relatives or neighbors, you can help them avoid these problems by visiting them at least twice daily and watching them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Encourage them to drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and drive them to a cool place if they have trouble with transportation.
With care taken, the outdoors can still be enjoyed even in the hot weather! Prepare yourself and your families and be safe this summer!
Paula Camposano Robinson, RN, is co-founder and owner of Sanitasole Senior Health Services. In healthcare for more than 30 years she and Jason Mark Young, MS, Director of Activities and Mental Health at Sanitasole will be discussing critical issues facing seniors and those who care for them. This is an information-only column and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician. Email me www.sanitasole.net for more information. Phone: 239.394.9931.