Heat-Related Illnesses


(6/08/11) – Heat-related illnesses pose a dangerous risk during hot summer months. McLeod Urgent Care Centers remind you to be aware of the risk factors and signs and symptoms so you may enjoy summer safely.

Heat-related illnesses are especially common when exerting energy outside or in poorly ventilated indoors. If you are exposed to high temperatures, you may become dehydrated if you do not drink enough fluids. You may also become ill if you are producing large volumes of sweat and do not hydrate with fluids that contain enough salt.

Three types of heat-related illness include:
• Heat cramps – these are painful and might be combined with headache or nausea;
• Heat exhaustion – this is more serious and includes vomiting, chills, headache, and dizziness, and
• Heatstroke – the most dangerous of the three, and if not caught and treated immediately, can be fatal or lead to permanent brain damage or coma.

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body gets too hot. The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls thirst and hunger, also controls the body’s core temperature. While the body normally cools itself by sweating, if you are exposed to high temperatures for a long time and don’t replace the fluids you lose, the body systems that regulate temperature don’t function properly. As a result, your body produces more heat than it can release. If you have heat exhaustion and don’t seek immediate attention, it can progress to heat stroke. Heat stroke can quickly lead to heart attack and death if not treated.

People with heat exhaustion may experience the following signs and symptoms:
• Heavy sweating
• Fatigue
• Headache
• Pale, clammy skin
• Thirst
• Rapid heartbeat
• Dizziness, fainting
• Nausea, vomiting
• Muscle and abdominal cramps
• Mild temperature elevations

The following factors increase the risk of developing heat exhaustion:
• Dehydration
• Age (the elderly and children under 5 years of age are more at risk)
• Illness or chronic disability
• Obesity
• Pregnancy
• Cardiovascular disease
• Hypertension
• Respiratory disease
• Drinking alcohol
• Physical exertion in hot or humid environments (athletes, military personnel, and outdoor laborers are particularly at risk)
• Taking medications that interfere with the body’s ability to cool itself, including antipsychotics, tranquilizers, antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, beta-blockers, and some over the counter sleeping pills

The best action is prevention. If your heart starts beating too fast and you feel light-headed, it is time to get out of the sun. Stay in cool or air conditioned spaces when possible on hot days. If you are outside, be sure to wear loose fitting clothing, preferably made from lightweight cotton as well as light colors.

Exercise or work outdoors during cooler times of day. Long-term prevention of heat exhaustion includes regular, physician approved exercise. Those who exercise regularly over time, allowing their bodies to adjust to hot conditions, may better tolerate exercise on hot days.

It is very important to drink plenty of water during the summer – even if you do not feel thirsty, drink anyway. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after the activity. Drinking enough fluids during exercise helps improve heart function, maintain kidney function, and lower the body’s core temperature. Dehydration can stress the heart and reduce the kidneys’ ability to maintain the correct balance of electrolytes.

Steer clear of salt tablets unless you have talked with your physician. Also stay away from alcohol, soft drinks, caffeine, or heavily sugared drinks including fruit juice.

It is best to take frequent breaks and stop before you become too exhausted. If you believe you are suffering from heat exhaustion, rest in a cool environment (a shady spot or, better, an air conditioned room) and drink cool (not icy) fluids. Water is usually enough to reverse dehydration, or you can drink a sports drink that contains electrolytes. You can also cool down by spraying yourself with water and fanning.

If you believe you are in trouble, seek medical attention immediately. Your physician will perform a physical examination, check your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature, and assess how dehydrated you are. They may also request lab tests of blood and urine samples.

Heat-Related Incidents in Children: Never Leave Your Child Alone

How does a hot car put children in danger? According to McLeod Safe Kids, from 1998 – 2006, more than 320 children – most of them 3 years old and younger – died from heat stoke after being left or becoming tapped in a car.

These deaths fall into three main categories: children who were trapped while playing in a vehicle without supervision; children who were accidentally left behind; and children who were intentionally left alone in a car.

A delay of just a few minutes on a warm day can lead to tragedy. Heat is much more dangerous to children than it is to adults. When left in a hot vehicle, a young child’s core body temperature can increase three to five times faster than that of an adult, which can cause permanent injury or even death.

Checklist for Parents and Caregivers:
• Teach children to never play in, on or around vehicles.
• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open.
• Always lock a vehicle’s doors and trunk, especially at home. Keep keys and remote entry devices out of children’s reach.
• Watch children closely around vehicles, particularly when loading and unloading. Check to ensure that all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination. Don’t overlook sleeping infants.
• Be especially careful if you’re dropping off infants or children at a day care provider if that’s not part of your normal routine.
• Place something you’ll need at your next stop – for example, a purse, lunch, gym bag, or briefcase – on the floor of the back seat where the child is sitting. This simple act could prevent you from forgetting your child.

McLeod Urgent Care Centers are open Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.; Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., and Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Florence) and 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Darlington). McLeod Urgent Care Center is located at 3015 W. Palmetto Street, Florence, and can be reached by calling (843) 777 – 6870. McLeod Urgent Care Darlington is located at 964 Lochend Drive, Darlington, and can be reached at (843) 7777 – 6890.

For more information about Safe Kids Florence, led by McLeod Health, please call (843) 777 – 5021.