Long exposure to excessive heat causes symptoms that become progressively worse unless you get out of the heat and do what is necessary to care for yourself. These are tips from Emergency Staffing Solutions Medical Director for Borger, Dr. Peter Way.
1. Initially, lack of water (or loss of water and salt from heavy sweating) will cause cramps; painful spasms that usually center in the legs, but can also occur in the stomach and arms. (A note about “thirst”: By the time your body tells you that you are thirsty, you’re already mildly dehydrated.)
Also, if they poorly hydrated, or poorly acclimatized to heat, or standing for long periods in the heat, people may suddenly feel weak and dizzy, or they may actually faint.
If you do get cramps, or suddenly feel dizzy, stop what you are doing, rest in a cool area, and drink clear juice or a sports beverage and eat more fruit (Dr. Way gives an example like bananas). With shade and rest, faintness or dizziness should settle down quickly. If cramps persist for more than an hour, see a doctor.
2. Heat exhaustion comes next. Your body temperature is still normal, but your skin is cold and clammy, you’re thirsty, become uncoordinated and feel dizzy. You may feel faint, and your heartbeat may be faster than normal. You must immediately be rehydrated with water, salt and minerals. If these symptoms continue even after you’re cooled down, see a doctor. Only let the person experiencing these symptoms have a water or sports drink if they are fully conscious and can protect their own airway, as nausea and vomiting are also signs of heat-related illness.
3. Finally, there is heat stroke (sometimes mistaken as a heart attack). If you’ve let things get to this stage, you are in serious trouble. As your condition deteriorates, your body actually stops sweating - so beware of dry, hot red skin. Your body temperature is above 103 degrees fahrenheit, your skin is dry and flushed, your pulse is strong and rapid, your mental state is impaired, and you’re on your way to a coma. Victims may die unless they are treated immediately.
If you see someone with these symptoms, call for an ambulance. While waiting, get the victim out of the heat. Loosen or remove clothing, wrap the person in wet towels or clothing, and apply ice packs around the neck and under the arms and knees (where the blood flow is greatest and closest to the surface).
The best defense is prevention and here are some precautions you can take...
•Wear lightweight, light-colored loose-fitting clothing.
•Carry water or juice
•Apply sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating of at least “SPF 15” to exposed portions of the body
•Limit exposure during the hottest hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
•If possible, avoid strenuous work or exercise outside.
•Take advantage of shade in the environment or wear a sun blocking hat.
•Stay in air-conditioned areas or use cooling fans to speed sweat evaporation