Messier: Dangerous heat? Find a retreat

There is no cool way to sugar coat the sizzle of the southern summer sun! If you plan on spending time outside in the extreme heat, prepare and know what to do to keep from suffering from heat-related illness.

Heat cramps are the mildest form of illness; caused by fluid and electrolyte loss. Sweating causes a loss of body salts, which can lead to cramping. These are usually in the form of muscle spasms or pain in the abdomen, arms or legs. Heat cramps are usually the first sign of a more serious condition.

Excessive sweating can also lead to the most common type of heat-related illness: heat exhaustion. It happens usually after sweating out lots of water and salt. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, and thirst, a faster heartbeat and cool, clammy skin.

Be smart about spending time outdoors! Find the cool spot in the shade, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, take breaks and avoid extreme physical activity when it is over 90 degrees outside. Elderly patients, those with diabetes and those on blood pressure and other medications should talk to their primary care physician about necessary precautions when it is dangerously hot outside. Some medications increase the body’s core temperature, putting them at an increased risk for heat injuries.

Some heat injuries can appear milder than they actually are, especially if an organ like your kidney is involved and not functioning properly. If symptoms like heavy sweating, cramps, headache, dizziness or nausea occur, act fast. Find the shade or air conditioning and try to normalize the body’s core temperature with cold water on the face and head, a cool shower or bath, or ice packs on the neck and under the arms. 

Knowing how to respond can help prevent heat stroke, which is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body can no longer regulate its core temperature. Someone experiencing heat stroke can seem confused, can lose consciousness and even experience hallucinations. Their body stops sweating and they may feel chills, use slurred speech or have seizures.

Here is a list of warning signs to note as recommended by the CDC:

• An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)

• Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)

• Rapid, strong pulse

• Throbbing headache

• Dizziness

• Nausea

• Confusion

• Unconsciousness

When these symptoms present, it is vital to get to an ER within 30 minutes. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can lead to death if not treated quickly.

John Messier, PA-C, CHRISTUS Velocity Urgent Care-Shreveport

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