Heat Related Illness
Our minds and bodies, though amazing, are designed to thrive within a very narrow range of core body temperature. It does not take much of a change to put these delicate processes in peril. As little as a 5% increase in core temperature to 103 degrees puts us at high risk for serious heat related injury. At 105 and 106 degrees our body processes start breaking down and the risk of death increases dramatically.
A recent study of high school football players has found that Georgia has led the nation in heat related football deaths over the past 15 years. The combination of bulky, heat-trapping athletic equipment, hot and humid weather, and inadequate fluid intake combine to put our athletes at risk. It is crucial that we educate ourselves and our family members in recognizing the early warning signs of heat related illness.
One of the earliest signs of heat related illness is muscle cramping. That should be a warning sign that you are in early stages of heat related illness. Further increases in temperature can lead to heat exhaustion which can be accompanied by heavy sweating, weakness, clammy skin, nausea, and vomiting. If the body core temperature continues to rise, heath stroke, which is characterized by confusion, agitation, fainting, bizarre behavior, warm/hot skin, and rapid heart rate, can occur which can rapidly lead to death.
The best way to avoid heat related illness is prevention. Recognize the days which put you or your loved ones at the most risk – hot, humid, sunny days (though sometimes a cloudy day can give one a false sense of security). Proper hydration, in sufficient quantity to account for sweating and fluid loss, is a key component in allowing proper perspiration which helps cool the body. Ideally it is a cold, electrolyte type sports beverage, but water is preferable to nothing. Avoidance of excessive caffeine and alcohol is also important. Removing oneself from the humidity and heat, getting into an air conditioned environment is important. Certain medications, such as ADHD medications, can make us more susceptible to heat related illness.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke should warrant immediate medical evaluation. If you or a loved one are concerned about heat related illness, please seek evaluation from your Primary Care Physician, the Emergency Department, or your local Piedmont Urgent Care by Wellstreet.