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Heat Strokes

With hot weather coming this weekend, we would like to remind readers to keep an eye out for heat strokes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Michael Fitch, professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health, the most serious illness that can come from excessive heat exposure is known as “heat stroke.” This occurs when a person’s body is overheated and is unable to control its own temperature using normal mechanisms such as sweating. This serious condition is characterized by a body temperature of 103 degrees or higher. With heat stroke, a person’s skin may be hot, dry or damp. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can lead to permanent disability or death if emergency treatment is not given.

Common risk factors for heat related illnesses include:

  • Extremes in age — infants or young children and those adults over the age of 65 who may have limited cooling capacity to compensate for excessive heat.
  • Individuals who undergo heavy exertion in hot weather.
  • Lack of air conditioning or shade.
  • Medications that affect the body’s ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat.
  • Chronic medical conditions.
  • Wearing too much clothing.
  • Drinking alcohol and becoming dehydrated.

Be on the lookout for individuals who may be suffering from a significant heat-related illness.

“If you notice someone who has been out in hot weather with symptoms of confusion, nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, or is sweating profusely and not feeling well, these could be signs of heat stroke or another serious illness from heat exposure,” Fitch said. “Other signs of heat stroke may include fainting, seizures, or a very high body temperature.”

So, what should you do it you think someone is experiencing a heat stroke?

“If you’re with someone who is showing symptoms of heat stroke, call 911 to get medical assistance, move the person to a shaded or cool area, and stay with them until EMS arrives,” Fitch said. “You also can help to cool a person down by placing cool wet cloths on the body, loosening any tight fitting or layered clothing and helping them to sip water.”

If you must spend extended time outdoors on a hot day, staying well hydrated is an important way to help to prevent a heat-related illness.

“Be sure to drink adequate amounts of water before spending time outdoors in the heat, and take frequent breaks while outside to continue drinking and to give your body the chance to be replenished with fluids that have just been lost through sweat,” Fitch said. “Energy drinks and alcohol should be avoided while outdoors on days with elevated heat.”

Two other heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat cramps. We will have more details about those conditions, what to look for and what to do if you see symptoms of them, in Friday’s column.

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Write: Ask SAM, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101 

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