Sunny days and outdoor activities make summer a favorite time of the year for many people. However, like most things in life moderation may be the key. Over exposure to the sun and heat could lead to heat stroke - the most severe form of heat illness that is defined as a body temperature of over 105 °F. Heat stroke results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures, usually in combination with dehydration, which leads to failure of the body's temperature control system. Heat stroke is strongly related to the heat index, which is a measurement of how hot you feel when the effects of relative humidity and air temperature are combined. A relative humidity of 60% or more hampers sweat evaporation, which hinders your body's ability to cool itself. The risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 90 degrees or more. So it's important, especially during heat waves, to pay attention to the reported heat index, and also to remember that exposure to full sunshine can increase the reported heat index by 15 degrees. (WebMD)
Heatstroke is the progression of two worsening heat-related conditions. When your body overheats, you may first develop heat cramps. If you don't cool down, you may progress to symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as heavy sweating, nausea, lightheadedness and feeling faint. You can usually treat heat cramps and heat exhaustion by drinking water or fluids containing electrolytes (Gatorade or other sports drinks), resting and getting to a cool spot, like a shaded or air-conditioned area or taking a cool shower. (Mayo Clinic) If your body temperature continues to rise and cannot be controlled it will progress to heat stroke. At this point, emergency treatment is needed and you should call 911 immediately. In a period of hours, untreated heatstroke can cause damage to your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. These injuries get worse the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people who are most at risk of heat stroke include:
- Infants and young children – because their central nervous system is not fully developed and they have difficulty staying hydrated
- Elderly people – because their central nervous system deteriorates after age 65, they commonly use medications such as vasoconstrictors, beta blocker or diuretics and they have difficulty staying hydrated
- Anyone who works outside or exercises in high temperatures; especially those who are unaccustomed to extremely hot weather or high humidity
- People who have health issues such as diabetes or heart disease
- People who use certain prescription or illegal drugs or who drink an excessive amount of alcohol
Some of the factors listed above can be controlled and may help reduce the chances of heat stroke. Precautions can be taken to prevent heat illness before it starts. Here are some suggestions from the U.S. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health:
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in hot weather.
- Rest frequently and seek shade or air conditioning when possible.
- Avoid exercise or strenuous physical activity outside during hot or humid weather; especially mid day when it is the hottest.
- Drink plenty of fluids every day. Drink more fluids before, during, and after physical activity.
- Be especially careful to avoid overheating if you are taking drugs that impair heat regulation, or if you are overweight or elderly.
- Be careful of hot cars in the summer. Never leave children unattended in a parked car. Allow the car to cool off before getting in.
If you live in an apartment or house without fans or air conditioning, try to spend at least two hours each day, preferably during the hottest part of the day, in an air-conditioned environment like a movie theater, indoor mall or restaurant. At home, draw your curtains, shades, or blinds during the hottest part of the day, and open windows at night on two sides of your building to create cross-ventilation. If you're a senior who either can't afford to buy or run an air conditioner, check with your local Area Agency on Aging for programs that can assist you. (WebMD)
Heat stroke is often times preventable but you must follow safety precautions to stay healthy. If you or a loved one is elderly, disabled or in need of some extra care contact SYNERGY HomeCare of North Orange County. We provide caregivers who can make sure that you or your loved one is staying comfortable, hydrated and healthy. SYNERGY HomeCare of North Orange County provides a full array of non-medical services such as transportation to doctor appointments and other local destinations, companionship, light housekeeping and personal care. SYNERGY HomeCare of North Orange County provides services in Brea, Fullerton, Tustin, Anaheim Hills, Orange, Yorba Linda and most cities in NorthOrangeCounty.