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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Heat Illness

With the arrival of summer, I thought it would be a good time to share some information on heat illness and how to avoid potentially life-threatening heatstroke. Normally, your body cools itself by sweating. However, during hot weather, especially with high humidity, sweating just isn’t enough to keep your body temperature from rising to dangerous levels. Most heat illnesses are caused when you stay out in the heat for too long. Those most at risk for heat illness are older adults, young children, and those who are sick or overweight.

Heat-related illnesses include:

- Heat rash – skin irritation from excessive sweating
- Heat cramps – muscle pains or spasms that happen during heavy exercise
- Heat exhaustion – an illness that can precede heatstroke; symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid breathing and a fast, weak pulse
- Heatstroke – a life-threatening illness in which the body temperature may rise above 106° F in minutes; symptoms include dry skin, rapid, strong pulse, and dizziness

Here are some heat illness prevention tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

- Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

- Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar–these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

- Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library–even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.

- Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.

- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

- NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.

For treatment and other information on heat illness visit MedlinePlus at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heatillness.html

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