By Kim Eaton
Those beautiful golden summer rays might look quite appealing after springtime showers, but if you’re not careful, that summer sun can turn dangerous, and fast.
“Exertional heat illness is one of the leading causes of death in young athletes each year,” says Dr. Ed Geno, assistant professor in the Department of Family, Internal, and Rural Medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences. “Children and the elderly are also more at risk. The elderly do not have the same cardiovascular ability to sweat and get the heat out of their system. There are also many medications that can predispose someone to heat injury of any kind.”
There are several types of heat illness. Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are the most common, while heat stroke is the most severe. People often know when they are hot, but with heat stroke, the core body temperature is elevated above 104 degrees and those individuals can start to exhibit brain symptoms – trouble walking, seizures and hallucinations and loss of consciousness, Geno says. Other symptoms may include headache, skin redness and warmth, rapid breathing and heartbeat, diarrhea and vomiting, muscle cramps and lack of sweating.
“The severity of heat stroke is directly related to the length of time someone is hot,” Geno says. “ So, if you start having symptoms of heat crams or heat exhaustion – heavy sweating, nausea, headache, faintness, dizziness, muscle cramps – you need to stop and immediately begin cooling your body down to prevent heat stroke.”
You can do this by spraying your body with cool water or taking a cool shower; moving into the shade, an air-conditioned car or by using a fan; drinking water or sports drinks, but never alcohol; removing extra clothing; or putting a cold pack on the back of your neck or under your armpits. If you do suffer from heat stroke or see people exhibiting symptoms, they need to be treated by a physician, Geno says.
If you know you are going to be in the sun for any length of time, make an effort to avoid any kind of heat illness, he says. “You can do this by gradually increasing your exercise rather than starting at full force, and drinking enough fluids so you do not feel thirsty,” Geno says. “Wear lightweight clothing and do activities earlier or later in the day. And never leave someone in a hot car.”