July 21, 2011
The hottest days of summer are here. Very high temperatures can put a great deal of stress on your body. High humidity or physical activity can make the effects of the heat even more dangerous. Summer weather can bring on a number of heat-related health problems that can lead to heatstroke, which can be deadly. So now is the time to learn how to recognize and prevent heat-related health problems.
This is the way the Mayo Clinic staff describes how your body controls its temperature. Your body's natural heat, together with heat from the outside, changes your internal temperature. Your body needs to keep its temperature in a normal range. Normal is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
In hot weather, your body cools itself by sweating. The evaporation helps control body temperature. But if it's very hot, or if you are active, sweating just isn't enough. It's hard for your body to keep your temperature in check. And high humidity makes it worse. It keeps sweat from evaporating quickly and releasing the heat. Heat illnesses result when your body gains heat faster than it can release it.
Heat cramps. Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms, usually in the belly, arms, or legs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says people who sweat a lot during heavy exercise are likely to get them. Sweat lowers the body's salt and fluid levels, causing the painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a sign of a more serious illness called heat exhaustion. If you have heart problems or are on a low-salt diet, get help right away. If medical attention is not needed, the CDC recommends the following:
Heat exhaustion. This illness may come on suddenly, or develop after a few days of being in the heat. It is a serious condition. These are the signs the staff of the Mayo Clinic wants you to watch for:
If you experience any of these, act fast. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can easily lead to heat stroke. Here are the steps to take
Heatstroke. This is a very serious, life-threatening condition. It happens when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. During heatstroke, says the CDC, the body's temperature rises fast. Sweating stops and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106 degrees or higher within 10 minutes. Heatstroke can cause death or permanent injury if emergency care is not provided.
Though they may vary, here are some of the warning signs of heatstroke:
Heatstroke is a matter of life or death. If you see someone with these warning signs, have someone call 9-1-1 or get medical help. And take these actions right away:
A number of things can put you at higher risk of heat-related illnesses. They include:
It's important to know that anyone can suffer heat-related illness. In fact, some of the strongest athletes can be at risk. That was true in the case of Korey Stringer of the Minnesota Vikings. Just 27, he passed out with heatstroke at training camp and later died. The Korey Stringer Institute for the prevention of heatstroke was founded in his honor.
There are two types of heatstroke: exertional and nonexertional, or classic. Exertional heatstroke can happen when you exercise heavily in the heat. According to the Korey Stringer Institute, or KSI, at the University of Connecticut, "Exertional heatstroke can happen when people do strenuous physical activity for a long period of time in a hot environment." Classic heatstroke more often happens to the elderly, persons in poor health and the very young.
As the KSI reports, "Exertional heatstroke has had a 100% survival rate when immediate cooling via cold water immersion or aggressive whole body cold water dousing was initiated within 10 minutes of collapse."
The staff of the Mayo Clinic offers these tips to use when the temperature rises:
Watch out for the needs of the young and the old:
Athletes should follow these tips from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine:
Knowing about the dangers of heat-related illnesses is the first step. Following these tips to prevent them can help you enjoy a safer summer.
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