Brief periods of extreme heat are often a hallmark of a New England summer. While the urge to enjoy the brief hot weather is strong, a good dose of caution is paramount. This type of extreme heat calls for two essential actions – keeping cool and staying hydrated and these two steps will help you avoid serious and life-threatening medical emergencies including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and dehydration.
Here’s how heat will affect you. The body primarily cools itself through perspiration with core temperatures remaining stable as long as fluid and salt are replenished. During times of extreme heat, our bodies work in overdrive to remain cool. Without taking steps to cool down, such as heading inside into air conditioning or replenishing fluids, our body’s automatic cooling system – sweating – will stop, which results in a potentially deadly medical emergency. These include:
- Heat cramps. These are painful muscle spasms after strenuous activity; they can also be a sign of heat exhaustion.
- Heat exhaustion. This occurs when the body becomes too hot. Thirst, weakness, fatigue, nausea, and profuse sweating serve as warnings. If treatment is delayed, heat exhaustion can advance to deadly heat stroke.
- Heat stroke. Symptoms of this potentially lethal rise in body temperature include confusion, bizarre behaviors, a strong, rapid pulse, dry, flushed skin with no sweat, and headache or nausea.
- Move the person to a cool, shady place.
- Offer cool liquids, if able to swallow.
- Immerse the person in ice water or apply ice-cold towels on the person’s body, particularly to the head, armpits, and groin/extremities.
- Call 9-1-1 for medical help.
Several actions can prevent these heat emergencies, including:
- Stay hydrated. When the weather becomes hot, drink water throughout the day. Avoid beverages that contain alcohol and caffeine. Fluids with electrolytes are especially helpful (e.g. Gatorade).
- If you have a condition and your doctor instructed you to limit your fluid or salt intake, make sure that you talk to your doctor so that you have a plan to stay hydrated during the summer heat.
- Keep your house cool by using an air conditioner.
- If you do not have air conditioning, cover windows to block sunlight. Also, visit places that are air conditioned, like city-run cooling centers, the mall, or the library.
- Do not go out during the hottest part of the day: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Wear white, short-sleeve, loose-fitting, natural-fiber clothing.
- Wear a wide-brim hat outside to provide shade.
- Take a cool shower.
- Cook with the microwave rather than the oven or stove.
- Pace your activities.
If you keep in mind heat related symptoms, prompt actions and cooling and hydration precautions, you can weather through the upcoming heat wave and go on to enjoy the remainder of the summer.
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