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Tips for avoiding heat-related illness

Published 3:21pm Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer is in full swing and that means long, hot and humid days.

July and August are the hottest months of the year. As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, temperatures are expected to rise into the mid-90s.

When temperatures reach 85 to 100 degrees for more than three days, families are at risk of heat-related illness, and Shoals Ambulance is urging the community to keep heat safety in mind while enjoying outdoor activities.

“During the hot summer months, high temperatures can present a serious danger as families enjoy outdoor activities and sports,” said Blake Hargett, Shoals Ambulance operations manager.

“Keep your family safe this summer by knowing the signs of heat-related illness and what to do when you recognize them.”

The Centers for Disease Control reports that an average of 658 deaths occurred in the United States from heat-related illness in the past year.

During heat waves, when temperatures reach 85 to 100 degrees for more than three days, knowing the tips to prevent heat-related illness is critical.

The most serious of heat-related illnesses is heatstroke, which occurs when the body is unable to control its temperature. When heat is excessive, body temperature rises rapidly and can’t decrease on its own. In critical cases, body temperature rises to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. This can lead to permanent disability, or even death, if emergency treatment is not provided.

Warning signs of heatstroke vary but may include:

  • Extremely high temperature above 103 degrees
  • Red, hot and dry skin with no sweating
  • Rapid, strong pulse or throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion or irrational behavior

While everyone is at risk for heatstroke, the most susceptible groups are senior citizens and young children. The elderly do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature and are more likely to take prescription medicine that impairs the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Parents should be mindful about their children’s prolonged exposure to summer heat. Leaving young ones in parked cars is a life-threatening danger during hot months – even if the window is open. This year, 11 child vehicular stroke deaths already have been reported in the United States and, on average, 44 occur per year. Never leave a child in a parked car for any length of time.

Athletes who often practice outdoors for several hours while wearing sports equipment also must be monitored for heat-related issues. Athletes should stay well hydrated and take regular rests in the shade. Many athletic trainers have tubs on site filled with ice to help lower an athlete’s body temperature in case of illness.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, 243 high school and college football players died in the United States between 1990 and 2010. Since heat often can be an undocumented contributing factor to a fatality, that number may actually be higher. Even if heatstroke is not fatal, it can cause significant lingering medical issues, such as liver and kidney damage and blood clots.

“Heatstroke is a serious danger to young athletes during long outdoor practices, and it’s 100 percent preventable,” Hargett said.

“Coaches and parents need to monitor athletes closely to make sure they stay hydrated and take regular breaks from the heat and sun. If athletes show any signs of heatstroke, call 9-1-1 immediately.”

To prevent heatstroke, heat exhaustion and other heat-related incidents this summer, follow these steps to stay safe:

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing during hot weather.
  • Rest frequently when outside and seek shade whenever possible.
  • Avoid exercise or strenuous physical activity during hot or humid weather.
  • Drink plenty of fluids daily.

If you see or experience any symptoms of heatstroke, immediately call 9-1-1. Attempt to cool down the patient by taking him or her to a shady or air-conditioned area and decrease body temperature with cold water or any means possible, such as ice packs or cool water from a garden hose. Though it seems counterintuitive, do not give the patient any fluids to drink – heatstroke can lead to vomiting or loss of consciousness, and the patient could choke – and monitor the patient’s body temperature until emergency services arrive.

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