As we get closer to summer, the HUMS Wellness blog wants to remind readers about the importance of protecting yourself from heat stroke. And no, we’re not talking about the Miami Heat here. Every year, Miami Dade residents are hospitalized with dehydration, severe sun burns, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. HUMS encourages you to protect yourself, and prevent costly medical expenses, (and save the headache of more medical bills) by following these guidelines.
What is heat stroke? Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency. It is the result of long exposure to sun and heat, without proper hydration (drinking water or sports drinks). Too much sun and not enough fluids results in your body’s inability to produce sweat. Because sweat is a natural cooling tool for your body, failure to sweat means your body will overheat; this can result in serious damage to your brain, heart, and other organs.
Who is at risk? Anyone who finds themselves outside during a hot day can be at risk. This includes people who work outdoors for a living (like landscapers or construction workers), people participating in team sports like soccer or basketball, kids at an outdoor camp, and gardeners. The elderly are particularly at risk; not enough fluids, combined with certain medications can increase your risk. Additionally, people who do not have central air or fans in their homes are at risk. Finally, anyone who is out of doors during the heat of the day and who hasn’t had enough water is also at risk. The USDA recommends roughly 3 liters of water per day for an adult – that’s 3 liter soda bottles!
What are the symptoms of heat stroke? Common symptoms of heat stroke include:
- disorientation, agitation, or confusion
- sluggishness or fatigue
- hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty
- a high body temperature
- loss of consciousness
- rapid heartbeat
It is important to note that these symptoms can occur in other medical conditions. When assessing for heat stroke, take recent history into consideration – was the person in the sun a lot, playing sports or working out in the heat, sitting in an apartment without air conditioning or a fan, or not drinking enough water throughout a hot day? And, while it may not be heat stroke, many of the above symptoms are serious enough to merit medical attention.
When to see a doctor. If you think you have heat stroke, contact a medical provider right away. A doctor will help treat heat stroke by bringing your body temperature down to a normal level, as well as treat any other symptoms you are experiencing. If you or someone you know is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat cramps, remove them from the hot environment immediately, and provide them with liquids like water or sports drinks (not soda, unless there is nothing else around); these conditions can often progress to heat stroke, so be sure to contact a medical provider if you have any concerns.
How to prevent heat stroke. Heat cramps, exhaustion, and stroke can be prevented. To protect yourself in the summer sun, medical providers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine suggest the following:
- Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of fluids during outdoor activities, especially on hot days. Water and sports drinks are the drinks of choice. Avoid tea, coffee, soda, and alcohol, as these can lead to dehydration.
- Wear lightweight, tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing in light colors.
- Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses and using an umbrella.
- Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your body used to the heat.
- During outdoor activities, take frequent drink breaks and mist yourself with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated.
- Try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days. But make sure your home is properly cooled, either with air conditioning, fans, or plenty of shade.
And as always, if you have questions or concerns about heat stroke, or how to stay healthy this summer, ask your healthcare provider!
Enjoy the summer!