Children and the Elderly Need Support When the Temperatures Get Dangerously High
Hundreds of people die each year across the country from heat-related causes, but the encouraging news is that heat illness is 100-percent preventable. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) urges everyone dealing with extreme heat this summer to make a special point of looking out for those most susceptible to heat illness.
"We all suffer when it gets brutally hot," said ACEP spokesperson Dr. Frederick Blum, "But children and the elderly especially need to be careful of dehydration and possible heat illness. They also are often less able to help themselves when they begin to show symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Parents or caregivers should make sure children get plenty to drink, and everyone should check in on elderly neighbors and family to make sure they are staying cool and hydrated."
Heat-related illnesses include sunburn, heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Of these, the two most serious conditions are heat exhaustion and heatstroke, both of which can be fatal. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. Untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke suddenly, and cause unconsciousness within minutes and may be signaled by feelings of uneasiness and sickness.
"Because heat affects different people in different ways, it is vital to keep a close eye on anyone in hot conditions for any length of time since they may not realize they are in danger, "said Dr. Blum. "If you see someone acting strangely in the heat, offer them help as quickly as you can. We all need to look out for one another when the temperatures get dangerously hot."
If you suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Help the person to a cool place. Lay the person down and raise their legs.
- Give the person plenty of water to drink, or a sports drink containing electrolytes.
- Even if the person recovers quickly, they should see a doctor.
If you suspect someone is suffering from heatstroke:
- Immediately call 911 and arrange to have the person taken to the hospital.
- Attempt to lower the person's body temperature as quickly as possible by moving the person to a cool place; wrap the person in a cold wet sheet, or place them in a cool shower, or place cool towels on various parts of the heat victim's body.
Of course, it's best to avoid the ill effects of heat-related illnesses altogether by taking a few simple precautions. ACEP suggests:
Hydrate: Drink plenty of water during the day, especially if you are engaged in any strenuous activity. Sports drinks are a good choice of you're exercising or working in hot conditions, but water is a good way to hydrate as well.
Ventilate: Stay in a place where there is plenty of air circulating to keep your body cool. If you are indoors and don't have access to air conditioning, open windows and use a fan.
Cover Up: Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing to avoid absorbing the sun's light and trapping heat. Wear a hat to shield yourself from the sun, but once you feel yourself getting warm, remove any items covering your head which can trap heat close to your body.
Limit Activity: Heatstroke can occur in less than an hour when you are participating in strenuous activity during a hot day. If you feel yourself getting hot or light-headed, stop your activity and rest in a cool place out of the sun. Be sure to drink water or a sports drink before, during, and after any strenuous activity.