Heading Off Heat-Related Illnesses

By: Candice Sorensen Email
By: Candice Sorensen Email

(CBS) Discomfort isn't the only negative effect the sweltering heat across the country can have.

As The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explained Tuesday, we are also at risk of heat-related illnesses.

During the hot summer months, people can run into some serious heat-related health problems, especially children under the age of four, people over the age of 65, and those who are obese, already ill, or taking medications.

One illness to beware of, Senay says, is heat exhaustion, which is the result of prolonged exposure to heat and not having enough body fluid. Symptoms can include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, and nausea or vomiting.

Heat exhaustion can affect the elderly, people with high blood pressure, and those who work outside. Outdoor workers may also be prone to heat rash from prolonged sweating, or heat cramps from too much exertion.

Senay warns that life-threatening situations can result from the heat: Our bodies normally cool down by sweating, but in extreme heat, the body can lose its ability to regulate temperature. The sweating function fails and body temperature rises rapidly, resulting in heat stroke, a serious medical condition that can damage the brain and other organs, and even kill you. Avoid leaving children and pets in cars with the windows rolled up in the heat. Temperatures can rise rapidly inside and cause serious health problems even more quickly.

Heat stroke's symptoms can vary, but you want to watch out for red, hot and dry skin, rapid, strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness.

If you think someone might be suffering from heat stroke, call 9-1-1, then cool them down any way you can until help arrives. Get them to the shade or an air conditioned area. Spray or sponge them with cold water, or immerse them in a tub of cold water, if possible. If it's not too humid, wrap the victim in a wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously. You want to get their temperature down to 101-to-102 degrees.

To avoid heat-related illness, Senay advices, drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids, pace yourself when working outdoors, replace salts and minerals, wear lightweight clothing, seek air conditioning, and take cold showers. Use common sense. Schedule your outdoor activities to avoid the hottest parts of the day, and use a buddy system if necessary to keep watch on those at high risk. Be careful when swimming or using wading pools to cool down, to avoid the dangers of drowning. If you don't have air conditioning, try to find a public place that's air conditioned, such as a mall or a library. Just a few hours of air conditioning a day can reduce the risk of heat-related illness.

As far as pets are concerned, if they're outside in the heat, make sure they have access to proper shelter and shade, and plenty of water.

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