A rather simple way to avoid most heat-related health problems is to drink! The body’s main defense to rising temperatures is perspiration. Sweating helps to carry the heat away.
Heat exhaustion occurs when your body fluids are 5 to 10 percent below normal. This is not life threatening; however, if you don’t head off things at this point, you could progress to heatstroke.
Heatstroke occurs when your core body temperature rises so much that the body begins to lose the ability to control it and you may stop sweating altogether. Heatstroke is life threatening.
Even though everyone is at risk of heat-related illness, it is often the oldest among us that get into trouble. As we age, the sensation of thirst is impaired, therefore decreasing the body’s reserve of water. Medications, such as diuretics for hypertension, can interfere with the body’s cooling system. It is important to drink until thirst is satisfied and then to drink some more! How can you be sure that you are drinking enough? A good way to determine if you’re drinking enough is to look at your urine; it should be clear. Another way is to continuously sip water throughout the day instead of only drinking when you are thirsty.
It is important to recognize the signs of dehydration and overheating and learn how to respond appropriately. Here is a list of the danger signs:
- Severe thirst and dry tongue
- Feeling of impatience or irritability
- Heavy sweating
- Pale, cold, clammy skin
- Cramps in the abdomen, legs, or arms
- Rapid weak pulse
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness, fainting
What can you do?
- If you begin to feel the signs of overheating, get out of the sun, drink cool fluids, spray yourself with water, and rest until you feel better.
- If you are with someone who is experiencing heat-related illness, lay that person down, loosen any tight clothing, and elevate the legs.
- If the symptoms worsen, call 911 or get to an emergency room. Heatstroke is life threatening.
- Lower the body temperature by wetting the skin and fanning vigorously. If possible, immerse the person in cool water, such as in a bathtub, although do not leave the person unattended.
- Give the person small amounts of cool liquids. Be prepared for vomiting.