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Heat Related Illness

There are three different types of heat related illness; heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat cramps are the first stage of heat related illnesses and it’s the mildest. Heat cramps are involuntary spasms of the muscles in hot or humid weather because of dehydration and lack of electrolytes. Usually occurring during physical activity but can occur several minutes as well after as well. The cramping will mainly occur in major muscles that are being stressed in the hot environment. If experiencing heat cramps; stop activity, get to a cooler place, drink lots of liquids and gently stretch the cramping muscle. To prevent heat cramps avoid doing any physical activity during the heat of the day, drink plenty of water and while doing long term physical activity consider consuming drinks that help increase electrolytes in the body and rest in shaded areas. Even though heat cramps are not very serious, heat cramps if not treated can result in heat exhaustion or worse heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion is the second stage. The body cools itself in hot and humid environments by sweating and if the body is unable to keep itself cool enough heat exhaustion starts to take place. Dehydration is one of the main factors because while doing physical activity in a hot environment people forget to replace all the sweat with more water which will cause the body to not have enough liquids to produce more sweat to cool off the body. If the humidity is too high the sweat cannot evaporate into the air which will stop the cooling process of the body. Many individuals experiencing heat exhaustion will be sweating profusely, weakness, muscle cramps, headache, and nausea and vomiting. As dehydration becomes worse the individual may start to experience lightheadedness, possibly fainting especially if the individual is moving around too quickly and a low grade fever. If experiencing heat exhaustion; rehydrate, move into shade or air conditioned room if present, clothes can be removed to help with air circulation, and misting of the body with cool water to help stimulate sweating to the body to help regulate body temperature again. If the individual is experiencing nausea or vomiting only small sips the water and only a mouthful at a time. Water or any other type of electrolytes replacement drinks are reasonable of rehydration. To prevent heat exhaustion take all the same precautions of heat cramps but once feeling a little weakness reduce the intensity and speed of activity or work and cool off. Failure to treat heat exhaustion will result in heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the final and most serious heat related illness. Heat stroke occurs when body temperate regulation fails and the hyperthermia starts to occur (body temperature of 104 or higher). While experiencing a heat stroke someone will experience some or all the symptoms of heat exhaustion plus absence of sweating resulting in hot red flushed dry skin, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, strange behavior, hallucinations, confusion agitation, disorientation, high fever, headache (head throbbing), seizure or possibly comma. It is extremely important to treat someone with heat stroke immediately to avoid permanent organ damages. If experiencing heat stroke; move into a shady area or room with air conditioning, remove clothing apply cool water to skin, fan individual to stimulate sweating and evaporation, and place ice pack under armpits and groin. Sometimes symptoms will be progressive or will occur all at once. If individual is alert and responsive attempt to rehydrate by drinking water or electrolyte replacement drinks. Monitor body temperature and continue to cool body till body temperature drops to 101 to 102 F. To prevent heat stroke avoid physical activity in a hot or humid activity, drink plenty of liquids, take breaks and cool off in the shade. Immediately call 911 if you are someone you know is experiencing a heat stroke. Failure to treat a heat stroke will result in death.

Writen By: Emily Cooksey

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