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Drew: Risk Factors, Prevention and Treatment for Heat-Related Illnesses

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

Last week’s article outlined the differences between a heatstroke (sunstroke) and heat exhaustion, along with the dangers associated with them. Part two of this series on those two heat related illnesses will focus on various risk factors, prevention and treatment.

It’s important to remember these two heat-related conditions occur when the body has been exposed to extremely hot temperatures like the ones we typically experience in August. Heat exhaustion is strongly linked to the heat index, which is a measurement of how hot you feel when the effects of relative humidity and air temperature are combined. It is not uncommon to hear the weather forecaster announce both the temperature high for the day along with the day’s heat index.

For example, he/she will say something like “the high for today is 98 degrees, but the heat index is going to make it feel more like 101.” A relative humidity of 60 percent or more hampers sweat evaporation, which prevents your body’s ability to cool itself. Therefore, it’s essential you pay close attention to the heat index and understand the heat index is even higher when standing in full sunshine.
Some risk factors which make some individuals more susceptible to heat exhaustion or heatstroke include being overweight, obese or having some form of disability.

Others include having sunburn, being under the age of 13 or older than 65, and/or spending time outdoors in extreme heat or staying indoors without a way to stay cool. Some prescription medications for heart conditions or high blood pressure – especially diuretics – and sudden changes in temperatures, like traveling from a cold climate to a hot one, are two other risk factors.

This is why it’s important to understand how to keep your body cool which should be your ultimate goal on days with extreme heat temperatures. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is very appropriate to this topic.

Staying indoors during the hottest portion of the day is one safety step. Also trying to stay in the shade when outdoors, drinking an extra 2-4 cups of water every hour when exposed to high temperatures, and taking frequent breaks when working or exercising outdoors on sizzling hot days are other safety tips.
If you or someone suspects they are experiencing heat exhaustion, immediate safety steps should be taken to help cool the body’s temperature down. They include moving to a shady location if outside, remove one or more articles of clothing, rest away from the sun, and/or use a wet cool cloth and apply it over the skin to cool the body’s temperature down.

Drinking fluids like water or sport drinks is another way to treat heat exhaustion. Remember if it’s not treated quickly and properly, heat exhaustion can turn into a heatstroke. If you or an individual begins to vomit or feels nauseous, seek immediate medical attention.

Last week the article identified the signs and symptoms of a heatstroke. If you or someone exhibits these signs and symptoms call 911 immediately. Also, you may wish to apply an ice pack to the neck, armpits and groin areas. Doctors use this treatment as well as using a spray cooling mist. Support any injured organ systems, use a specialized cooling blanket, as well as administer intravenous fluids that help promote cooling and hydration.

It’s important to emphasize that even on the hottest days if you Keep an Eye on Safety with regards to these two heat related illnesses, they can be prevented.