Heat Related Illness

Can the heat kill us? Yes. Our minds and bodies thrive in a very narrow range of temperature. It does not take much to put these delicate processes in danger. 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.

As school sports start, the risk of heat related illness rises. 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 warning signs is muscle cramping. 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, allows for proper perspiration which cools the body. Ideally it is a cold, electrolyte containing 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 can help greatly. Certain medications, such as ADHD medications, should put us on high alert as these can make us more susceptible to heat related illness.

Symptoms of heat related illness 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.

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