Heat illness and exhaustion can be prevented
The weather forecast is calling for temperatures in the 90s and the heat index to reach triple digits. This heat can and will impact everyone, so take the extra steps to protect yourself and those around you.
Norton Audubon Hospital’s emergency department reports having treated several patients during the peak summer months of June, July and August over the past several years for heat exhaustion and other heat related illnesses including heat stroke. In fact from July 2014 to 2015 there was almost a 50 percent increase in the number of heat related admissions.
“Everyone is at risk and needs to pay attention to their body when outside in the heat,” said Robert Couch, M.D., emergency medicine physician and medical director for the emergency department at Norton Audubon Hospital. “The impact of heat exhaustion can be extreme, even leading to death.”
When the body’s core temperature begins to rise to near 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the body goes into distress. Cell damage begins to occur, initiating a cascade of events that may lead to organ failure and death.
Heat-related illness can range in severity from mild to fatal. In most cases, it is preventable as long as you listen to your body.
Symptoms start out as dizziness, headache and feeling too weak to continue an activity. After that, more serious symptoms include:
- Heavy sweating or the other extreme of hot, dry skin
- Cold, pale and clammy skin
- Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramping
- Fast, weak pulse
“People at greatest risk for heat exhaustion are the elderly, children younger than 4 years old and those with chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes and neurological disorders,” Dr. Couch said. “However everyone needs to be vigilant by staying hydrated and taking care of themselves and those around them in the extreme heat – whether they are working or playing.”
If you or someone around you begins exhibiting symptoms of heat exhaustion, here’s what you should do:
- Move to a cooler location, even if it is under shade until moving indoors is an option
- Loosen tight clothing
- Drink cool water
- Apply cold, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible, including the head, neck and armpits
- If the person is vomiting, seek medical attention immediately
- Call 911 if symptoms persist or do not improve
Untreated heat exhaustion can escalate into heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness. Heat stroke is life-threatening.
Signs of heat stroke include:
- High body temperature
- Confusion or acting delirious
- Hot, red, dry or moist skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Rapid and strong pulse
- Possible unconsciousness
“The body can go into shock, organs can begin shutting down and the person may have long-term implications,” Dr. Couch said. “It is important to call 911 and work to cool the person while waiting for medical help to arrive.”
Heat stroke victims should be cooled until body temperature is below 102.5 degrees, preferably within 30 minutes of collapse.
If someone around you appears to be experiencing heat stroke, here’s what you should do:
- Immerse the person in cold water (35 to 39 degrees); continuously stir the water to maximize cooling
- Remove excess clothing
- Place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the head, neck, armpits and groin
- Mist the person with water while fanning air over him or her
How do you prevent heat exhaustion?
Dr. Couch recommends the following:
- If you have to be outside, try to do so early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperature is lower and the sun is less intense.
- Take frequent breaks by going inside or under shade.
- Keep up your fluid intake. Drink before going outside and continue drinking once you’ve come back inside.
- Check on friends and neighbors. Make sure they are in well-ventilated areas, have fans and access to cool drinking water.
Norton Audubon Hospital is undergoing a $107 million renovation to improve care and services available to our central Louisville neighbors. Though the project will take about three years to complete, all services are open during construction, including the 24/7 emergency department should you experience a medical emergency.