July is in full swing. As a camel might say, the hump month of summer, and already days are getting shorter — and hotter.
As I sit and write this, my thermometer says it is 106 degrees outside in the sun. Whew! With higher temperatures come a greater risk of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Take heed — this is serious stuff!
After researching six reliable references, consistent information relates that increased incidence of these heat related disorders are on the rise.
Two sources from the “Stars and Stripes” newspaper related serious increases among military members on maneuvers and training exercises. Football and other intense sports activities also have reported deaths. Among reasons stated are lack of acclimating the body to new environments, inadequate hydration, pushing physical activity in high heat and humidity, and doing intense outdoor activities in occasional spurts.
Young adults and teens often push themselves beyond a natural stopping point out of peer pressure or organizational requirements. The increased temperatures and, surprisingly, lack of sleep also are contributing factors. Dietary supplements, energy drinks, pre-workout products, or weight loss products, alcohol and medications can also have an effect.
On a spectrum, heat cramps are the least serious of heat illnesses, followed by heat exhaustion and finally heat stroke. They can easily progress from one to the other. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can lead to electrolyte imbalance, brain damage, kidney failure, coma, shock and death. As usual, the very old, the very young and those with preexisting medical conditions are at greater risk.
Heat Cramps show themselves as intermittent muscle cramps or spasms of the leg, thigh, arm and abdominal muscles. This is due to loss of fluids and salts. Action: The CDC recommends you stop all activity; get to a cool, shaded place; drink clear juices, sports drinks or water and eat a snack; and avoid salt tablets. Do not return to activities for a few hours after cramps stop. If cramps continue longer than an hour if you have a heart condition or eat a low sodium diet — see your doctor.
Heat Exhaustion is described as excessive loss of water and salt through sweating. It is characterized by a fast heart beat, heavy sweating, excessive thirst, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting, irritability, fast shallow breathing and slightly elevated body temperature (101). Recommendations include getting to a cool place, drinking water or cool drinks, removing any heavy clothing, and taking a cool wash down.
Heat Stroke occurs when the body is unable to control its temperature, which can lead to permanent disability or death. The symptoms include: high body temperature (104-105+ degrees), warm dry skin, shallow breathing, fast heart rate, nausea, vomiting, agitation or lethargy stupor, lack of sweating and confusion. Seizures can been seen. This is a medical emergency! Call 911. There is a 30-minute window before cellular damage can occur. There are new recommendations by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association to cool first, then transport. Actions include moving to a cool, shady place; removing any excess clothing; drenching body with cool water; and fanning the person. If the person is alert, slowly give cold, clear fluids, popsicles, Jell-O and electrolyte fluids (e.g., Gatorade).
Prevention is the best cure. Recommendations include monitoring everyone in your group, including yourself; wear light colored, loose fitting, porous clothing (avoid non-breathable synthetics); gradually increase activities; work during coolest part of day; take breaks in cool, shady areas; and drink water!
That’s taking good care of your health.
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