Heat-related illnesses are preventable conditions. These conditions range from mild to life-threatening. Knowing your risk factors can help prevent these conditions.

Common risk factors include: strenuous outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day, being overweight or at a poor fitness level, physical or cognitive impairments, heart and lung disease and being over the age of 65. There are many medications that can increase your risk; ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about your medications.

Mild heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion and heat cramps. Heat exhaustion is characterized by weakness, headache, dizziness, loss of coordination, irritability, pale skin, diarrhea and nausea with or without vomiting. To treat heat exhaustion, provide a cool shaded area, lie down, legs elevated and drink plenty of fluids, preferably water.

If there is no improvement after 20-30 minutes, going to the emergency room is recommended. Heat cramps can occur when exercising in the heat. Heat cramps are caused by dehydration and loss of electrolytes. To treat them, have the person rest, increase sodium intake and perform prolonged stretching of the muscles that are cramping.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency and recognition of its signs and symptoms are critical to getting treatment started as soon as possible, including a temperature of 104 degrees F and altered mental status. Cold water immersion and ice packs or cold wet towels to the head, neck, armpits and groin is recommended. Moistening the skin and fanning the person will also help cool them down. People with heat stroke usually require IV fluids and evaluation by a healthcare provider as well.

If you would like more information, call Breanna Paulson, FNP at the Walk In Clinic, located on the CHI St Francis Health campus, at 643-0747.

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