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Heat-related Illness


Warm weather means activities and fun under the sun! Whether you love putting on shorts and feeling the warm outdoors, or find it hot and sticky, everyone must be careful not to let a heat-related illness spoil the day.




Normally, the body has ways of keeping itself cool, by letting heat escape through the skin, and by evaporating sweat (perspiration). If the body does not cool properly or does not cool enough, the victim may suffer a heat-related illness. Anyone can be susceptible although the very young and very old are at greater risk. Heat-related illnesses can become serious or even deadly if unattended.



Stages of Heat-Related Illness

Heat-related illness usually comes in stages. The signal of the first stage is heat cramps in muscles. These cramps can be very painful. If you are caring for a person who has heat cramps, have him or her stop activity and rest. If the person is fully awake and alert, have him or her drink small amounts of cool water or a commercial sports drink. Gently stretch the cramped muscle and hold the stretch for about 20 seconds, then gently massage the muscle.


The signals of the next, more serious stage of a heat-related illness (often called heat exhaustion) include:


  • Cool, moist, pale skin
    (the skin may be red right after physical activity).

  • Headache.

  • Dizziness and weakness or exhaustion.

  • Nausea.

  • The skin may or may not feel hot.



The signals of the late stage of a heat-related illness (often called heat stroke) include:


  • Vomiting.

  • Decreased alertness level or complete loss of consciousness.

  • High body temperature (sometimes as high as 105oF).

  • Skin may still be moist or the victim may stop sweating and the skin may be red, hot and dry.

  • Rapid, weak pulse.

  • Rapid, shallow breathing.





How can I prevent heat illness?

When the heat index is high, stay indoors in air-conditioned areas when possible. If you must go outside, take the following
precautions:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.

  • Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein which increase metabolic heat.

  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat or using an umbrella.

  • Don't forget the sunscreen!

  • Drink plenty of water before starting an outdoor activity. Drink extra water all day. Drink fewer beverages that contain caffeine (such as tea, coffee and cola) or alcohol.

  • Schedule vigorous outdoor activities for cooler times of the day--before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.


  • During an outdoor activity, take frequent breaks. Take time out to find a cool place. If you recognize that you, or someone else, is showing the signals of a heat-related illness, stop activity and find a cool place. Remember, have fun, but stay cool! Drink water or other fluids every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you don't feel thirsty. If you have clear, pale urine, you are probably drinking enough fluids.

  • If you have a chronic medical problem, ask your doctor about how to deal with the heat, about drinking extra fluids and about your medicines.


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