Heat stroke, heat exhaustion both preventable

Published 9:13 pm Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“It’s hot out there,” people say when the temperature is high during summer months. But people seem to pay less attention to their body temperature.

Those who spend extended amounts of time in the sun can unknowingly increase their body temperature to dangerous levels. This is especially true when people don’t drink enough fluids.

Chilton County Health Department Clinic Supervisor Ludean Hicks said heat illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, are often misunderstood.

“Our weather is so unpredictable these days,” Hicks said. “Some people don’t understand what it means to have heat stroke.”

The key to preventing heat stroke is recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion — heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting or fainting. The skin may be cool and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow.

“Heat exhaustion kind of comes up gradually over a few days with exposure to high temperatures,” Hicks said.

People who work outdoors for long periods of time should keep a container of water with them. Also, the best times to work are in the early morning or late afternoon, when the temperatures are not as extreme.

If the symptoms of heat exhaustion are allowed to persist without treatment, they can lead to heat stroke, which is serious and could be deadly.

“You have to keep that body temperature down, and it can go up real fast,” Hicks explained. “Heat stroke occurs when body temperature gets so high, the body can’t cool itself off.”

Warning signs of heat stroke include the inability to sweat, red and dry skin, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness. Body temperature during heat stroke can rise to above 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

Steps should be taken immediately to cool a person suffering from heat stroke, including having another person call 911.

“Spray them with water from a hose, use a wet towel or sheet; something cool,” Hicks said.

Also, heat cramps can affect people who sweat heavily during strenuous activity. These are described as spasms or muscle spasms, usually occurring in the abdomen, arms or legs.

To relieve heat cramps, apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage them. Sips of water should be taken every quarter hour for one hour.

Hicks said over-activity can also result in cramps.

“That’s a different kind of exhaustion,” she said.

For more information on heat illness, visit www.adph.org.