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Heat Illness: A Hot Topic. By Our August Student Pharmacist, Grace Kilbane.

Although we’ve had it made in the shade this summer, this is the time of year when things can really heat up. As the fall sports programs start to work out our young athletes, it is important to be aware of the risks of heat injury.

There are three main types of heat injury that range in severity and urgency: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Read on to educate yourself on how to beat the heat!

Heat cramps can be common in people who work or exercise outdoors and lose too much salt through sweating. Salt is an important regulator of skeletal muscle contractions. If your salt levels are out of whack, your muscles may not function properly and may begin cramping. If you notice cramping, you should opt for a sports drink (such as Gatorade) instead of water to help replace some of the salt and potassium lost by your body and call it a day. If the cramping does not subside within one hour or you notice that your urine is very dark or brown, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt through sweating. Symptoms include: rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, dizziness, weakness or fatigue, fast but shallow breathing, and skin that is cool and damp. Treat heat exhaustion by resting in a cool area and drinking lots of water. A cool shower or bath can help your body maintain a safe temperature. Heat exhaustion may also be accompanied by heat cramps.

Heat stroke occurs when your body is no longer able to maintain a safe temperature. Heat stroke is the most serious type of heat injury and can lead to death if not treated. Symptoms of heat stroke include: high body temperature, loss of coordination, confusion, headache, seizure, and skin that is hot and dry. Body temperatures can rise very quickly during heat stroke, and it is important to treat it immediately. Call 911. Get the person to a cooler area as soon as possible. Do NOT give fluids. Begin cooling the body by dousing the person with water and/or placing icepacks in the groin area, armpits, and forehead.

Here’s what you can do to chill out and prevent having a meltdown this year:

  • Avoid direct sun between the hours of 11am – 2pm, seek a shady area if possible.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and light fabrics.
  • Drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Do not wait until you become thirsty to drink water, drink two glasses every hour.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat illness and monitor yourself and others.

References:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness.  https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat Related Illness.

http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.html

 

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