Summer’s here, so let’s be prepared and review the hazards of overheating and what to do about them.
Heatstroke is the most serious problem. It happens when a person can no longer sweat and body temperature rises fast. Within a matter of minutes, the brain and vital organs are “cooked.” Heatstroke is fatal a lot of the time and survivors may well have organ damage. Symptoms are very hot skin and a change in mental state that can range from just slight confusion to comatose. The victim may have seizures.
The goal of first aid is to rid the person’s body of the excess heat. To do that:
- Move them to the shade and help them into a half-sitting position.
- Call for emergency professional medical help. If the humidity is not too high (below 75%), spray the person with water and then vigorously fan them.
- Otherwise, apply ice to the neck, armpits, or groin. Do not give the victim aspirin or acetaminophen or anything to drink.
Heat exhaustion is more common and happens when a person loses too much salt and water. Symptoms mimic flu: severe thirst, tiredness, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, profuse sweating, clammy or pale skin, dizziness, and rapid pulse. The body temperature may be normal or a little high. If you don’t treat heat exhaustion, it can become heatstroke.
To treat heat exhaustion:
- Move the victim to the shade or into an air-conditioned place. Have them drink water or other cool beverages.
- Don’t have them drink alcohol. Use wet towels or have them take a cool shower to alleviate the heat.
- Heat cramps can affect the leg, arm, or abdominal muscles and are caused when excess sweating lowers the body’s salt level.
To treat the spasms:
- Have the victim sit or lie down in the shade.
- Give them cool water or a sports drink.
- Have them stretch the painful muscles.
- If the person has heart problems or if the cramps don’t get better in an hour, get medical attention.
As with most things, prevention is best. So:
- Limit your time outside during hot days, especially during the hottest part of the day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Have the drink water or other cool beverages. Don’t have them drink alcohol. Stay inside and cool off with air conditioning.
- Drink more liquid than you might think you need, including fruit juice or a sports drink.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Wear lightweight clothing and a hat. Use sunscreen because sunburn adversely affects your body’s ability to deal with heat.