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Too hot to handle

It sure has been a hot, dry summer – and the weather man promises that it’s going to stay that way a bit longer. Since you can’t spend your days chilling at the beach or a pool, be cool and monitor your body temperature to...

It sure has been a hot, dry summer – and the weather man promises that it’s going to stay that way a bit longer. Since you can’t spend your days chilling at the beach or a pool, be cool and monitor your body temperature to avoid heat stroke (hyperthermia). This serious condition can become fatal if not recognized quickly and treated properly.

Hyperthermia simply means: excessive heat. This condition occurs when your body temperature reaches 40 C (104 F) or higher. Recognizing the early stages of overheating (heat cramps or heat exhaustion) will help you take the steps to cool down before your condition becomes serious.

Some signs of heat cramps or heat exhaustion include: nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headache, muscle aches, cramps, and dizziness. However, if your body temperature continues to rise, you could find yourself in an emergency situation. In a period of just hours, untreated heat stroke can damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The severity of these injuries is directly related to how long treatment is delayed.

Common signs and symptoms of heat stroke are: an elevated body temperature, a lack of sweating, skin that is red hot or dry and flushed, difficulty breathing, a rapid pulse, disorientation, confusion, hallucinations, agitation, and even seizures leading to a coma. A common complication of heat stroke is shock, which is seen by extremely low blood pressure, blue-tinged lips and nails and cool, clammy skin.  

Heat stroke can have many contributing factors, but the one constant is an extremely hot environment. Any situation that increases your body temperature can lead to heat stroke if not managed properly. Even if you are not doing anything physical, just a prolonged exposure to hot, humid weather, without periods of cool-down can cause non-exertional heat stroke. Older adults or those with chronic illness are frequently affected.

Certainly, strenuous activity in a hot environment can also cause heat stroke. This exertional heat stroke occurs in people who are not used to working hard in higher temperatures. This usually happens during extreme weather changes when your body hasn’t had a chance to acclimatize itself to suddenly hotter temperatures.

Certain medications can increase your risk because they affect the way your body responds to high temperatures. Be cautious if you are taking medications that narrow your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulate your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics), or reduce psychiatric symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics). Stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and illegal stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine also make you more susceptible.

Unfortunately, some factors are beyond your control. Still, it is good to be aware of them to be appropriately cautious. If you are over 60 years old, your central nervous system has lost some of its efficiency, making it harder to effectively manage temperature changes and moisture fluctuations. Your genetic make-up also impacts how efficiently your body adapts to heat. Chronic health conditions affecting your heart, lungs, kidneys or weight can also increase your risk.

So, take some steps to avoid heat stroke when it’s extremely hot and humid. Reschedule or cancel outdoor activity. If possible, shift your time outdoors to the coolest times of the day, either early morning or after sunset. If not possible, be sure to stay hydrated. Drink 24 ounces of water or sports drinks (not alcohol or caffeine drinks) two hours before heavy work, and consider adding another eight ounces right before working. While working, take a break to drink another eight ounces every 20 minutes, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

As well, dress in light-coloured, lightweight, loose clothing that allows you to sweat and for your sweat to evaporate easily. Wear a hat in the sun. Don’t sit for any length of time in your hot rig with the windows up and the air off. If you just have your fan blowing on you to feel cooler, the moving air, alone, won’t keep your core temperature low enough.

If even after taking these precautions, you recognize that you or someone else may be experiencing heat stroke, call for medical help. Then, begin to cool the affected person down immediately by moving that person out of the heat and into and area of shade or air-conditioning.

Remove excess clothing and apply cool water to the person’s skin. (A garden hose can be very effective). Fan over the dampened areas of skin to promote sweating and evaporation. Place ice packs or cold wet towels on the head, neck, armpits and groin. Encourage the person to drink cool liquids, if able to. Continue doing this until the person’s body temperature has dropped below 102 F (38.8 C).

It’s hard to believe, but these hot days will soon be over and fall’s just around the corner.

Enjoy summer while you can; just remember to keep your cool.

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