By Lance Coleman Emergency Department Director, Rutherford Regional Health System
With the days at their longest and brightest, many of us are taking advantage of the season, soaking up vitamin D and spending as much time in the fresh summer air as we can.
While summer can be a wonderful time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, you should be aware that heat-related illness is a serious danger. Did you know that heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S.? Heat overexposure is especially dangerous for children and the elderly.
The good news is that protection from the heat and the sun’s rays can often be relatively easy to manage in contrast with some other weather-related dangers, so it’s crucial to know how to protect ourselves, especially as we endure some of the hottest days of summer.
Most heat-related illnesses are prevented by avoiding dehydration in hot environments and by keeping yourself cool. Mild heat-related illness can be treated at home, but conditions such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke are very serious and require immediate medical treatment.
What puts you at risk for heat-related illness? Common triggers are exercising or working during hot weather and overdressing for hot environments. Additionally, drinking alcohol in hot conditions can cause dehydration. Other factors that could endanger you include:
- Medicines. Some decrease the amount of blood your heart pumps, thereby limiting blood flow to the skin, so you’re less able to cool yourself by sweating.
- Age. Babies do not sweat effectively and older adults often have health conditions that affect their ability to lose heat.
- Obesity. Overweight people have decreased blood flow, and heat is held in their bodies because of larger layers of fat tissue.
- Chronic Diseases. Conditions such as diabetes, heart failure and cancer can affect the way your body gets rid of heat.
If you experience any of the following, seek medical attention right away: body temperature at 102 degrees and rising, fainting or seizure, trouble breathing, severe vomiting and nausea, and accelerated heart rate. Even if you have cooled off, look for persistent symptoms such as dizziness, weakness, headache, fatigue, or nausea and call your doctor or seek help at an emergency room.
More heat safety information is available at www.nws.noaa.gov/os/heat/.
Rutherford Regional Health System is nearby in the event of an emergency and has become chest-pain accredited recently as well. Our hope is that you’ll enjoy the summer weather, but safely and responsibly.
Lance Coleman is Emergency Department Director, Rutherford Regional Health System.