To quote both Ethel Merman and Marilyn Monroe, we are now “having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave”.
Although the warm weather shifts our thoughts to beaches and ice cream, we also need to be careful as too much heat is not safe for anyone. Throughout the year our bodies actively work to keep our internal temperature at a constant level by balancing heat production and heat loss. In hot weather, our body sweats which, through evaporation, helps us lose heat and cool down.
When the stress of cooling down is too much, one of several conditions under the heading of heat illness or “hyperthermia” may occur. Children, the elderly and patients with serious medical conditions are more prone to hyperthermia. Increasing the risk for heat related illness are concurrent high humidity, alcohol use, dehydration, certain medications, excessive exercise or too much clothing.
Early symptoms of heat illness include profuse sweating, fatigue, thirst and muscle cramps. These can lead to “heat exhaustion”, a condition indicating your body is straining to keep cool, and a warning of the potential of a life threatening illness. With heat exhaustion, you may feel weak, dizzy, nauseated and uncoordinated. Even though your body temperature is normal, the skin feels cool and clammy, and the heart rate is rapid. Treatment consists of resting in a cool place, drinking plenty of fluids and, if you don’t feel better soon, seeking emergency medical care.
Beyond heat exhaustion is “heat stroke”, a condition in which cooling mechanisms collapse. The body temperature shoots up (often to 104 degrees or greater) and the skin is dry and flushed (ie you have lost your ability to sweat). The nervous system may be affected and fainting, confusion or loss of consciousness may be seen. Any of these conditions require a 911 call and immediate emergency care.
Since we will be experiencing heat waves throughout the summer, keep in mind that there are steps to take which will minimize your risk of heat related illness:
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Keep your house as cool as possible. Cover windows with shades or curtains during the hottest parts of the day. Use air conditioners and/or fans. Take a washcloth and soak in cool water and wet your forehead and neck
- If you do not have air conditioning, try to spend at least two hours in the middle of the day in a public place with AC; shopping mall, library, or a friend’s house
- Lie down, relax, and avoid exercise.
- Dress for the weather and wear shorts and sleeveless tops. Light colors are better.
- If possible, go to the beach where it is often cooler