Heat-related illnesses: Know the signs and treatments

By Nathan Fligeman

Excessive heat is the most dangerous type of prolonged weather condition that the U.S. faces each year, commonly throughout the summer season. Forecasts for these intense periods of heat are often given via the public-accessible provision of outlooks (3-7 days prior to the projected heat wave), watches (24-72 hours prior), and warnings/advisories (less than 12 hours prior). It is critical to keep on the lookout for these alerts; a majority of news and radio stations cover the latest updates on the weather forecast at several times throughout the day.

Being unprepared for high temperatures and the radiating sun can lead to harmful consequences, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Heat cramps normally involve the painful spasming of muscles in your legs and abdominal region, although can expand to impact the rest of your body, as well. Excessive sweating is also common as an accompanying symptom to the aforementioned spasms. Heat cramps are often the initial sign of potential heat-related illness. In order to alleviate these cramps, pressure, in the form of a light massage, should be applied to the aching area. If the suffering person is not experiencing nausea, water should be consumed at small increments, as well. If the cramps persist for over an hour, or are extremely painful at any point, professional medical attention should be sought.

Heat exhaustion is the ‘next level,’ in terms of severity, of heat-centric malady, following heat cramps. Symptoms often include, but are not limited to, heavy sweating, feelings of weakness and imbalance, a weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, fainting, and/or headache. In order to alleviate such symptoms, the person should immediately be moved to a cold(er) setting, such as a room with air-conditioning or an ice bath. Water should also be provided, if the person is capable of intaking liquid without symptoms of nausea or vomiting. It is normally advised that if vomiting occurs, and/or the person does not begin to feel better within an hour, medical assistance should be called for. Similar to heat cramps, if the symptoms are extreme, professional assistance should be requested immediately.

Heat stroke is the most serious level of heat-related illness, and warrants an immediate 911 emergency call/a visit to the closest hospital. Heat stroke combines the painful symptoms of heat cramps and heat exhaustion with a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, red skin, a rapid pulse, and possible loss of consciousness. Sufferers should immediately be transferred to a cooler environment, and should not be provided with any liquids. People around the sufferer should pay constant and very close attention to the sufferer’s condition as they await the arrival of medical personnel.

In order to avoid the often agonizing and uncomfortable symptoms which are attached to each of these ailments, summer activities should always be accompanied by higher levels of water intake. Exposure to direct sunlight should be limited from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., primarily. Protective clothing and applications are also commonly recommended to combat the effects of UV rays.

Visit our website for American Red Cross heat safety information. You can also download the free Red Cross First Aid App to learn how to treat a wide variety of illnesses and injuries.

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