Summer is officially here. We’re now in the “heat” of things. Enjoy, but take heed – skyrocketing temperatures and record-setting humidity can spell real trouble.
We have waited a long time for warm weather, but what we’re getting right now, is hot weather. So, that means you should be vigilant about the potential for problems associated with the heat and humidity. When the heat index rises above 100 degrees, it doesn’t take long for your body to be seriously affected by the heat.
One of the first things to remember is to keep hydrated. Our bodies can lose water quickly, and without warning. Two common problems arising from hot weather-related conditions are dehydration and heat stroke.
Under normal circumstances, our bodies can lose fluid by way of tears, sweat glands (perspiration), urine and stool. This doesn’t even take into consideration any exercising that may be undertaken, especially participating in outdoor activities in the hot summer. Dehydration occurs when the body loses too much fluid. Both situations can be potentially life-threatening if not addressed. Compounding these problems are additional causes for loss of body fluid not related to extreme heat and/or exercise in extreme heat. Certain drugs can cause dehydration such as diuretics which, by design, cause the excretion of retained fluid. Common medications such as blood pressure drugs can have diuretic effects.
We can replace fluids by what we drink as well as many of the foods we eat that contain water. Remember, though that fluid loss can often come with depletion of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium; the lack of which can have serious effects upon organ systems such as kidneys and the heart. Therefore, merely ingesting water as the primary source of fluid replenishment won’t replenish the system with badly needed electrolytes during severe dehydration. So, how do you know when you’re getting more than a little dehydrated? Well, here are some signs, as offered by the University of Maryland Medical Center:
• less-frequent urination
• dry skin
• dry mouth and mucous membranes
• increased heart rate and breathing
So, what is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency. It is the result of long, extreme exposure to the sun in which a person does not sweat enough to lower body temperature. The elderly, infants, persons who work outdoors and those on certain types of medications are most susceptible to heat stroke. It is a condition that develops rapidly and requires immediate medical treatment.
Symptoms of heat stroke can include:
• disorientation, agitation or confusion
• sluggishness or fatigue
• hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty
• a high body temperature
• loss of consciousness
• rapid heart beat
Heat stroke is not only the body’s loss of fluids, but also the loss of its ability to cool itself. This can be potentially lethal if not recognized and treated promptly.
Because children have smaller body mass, they lose fluids quickly and in greater proportion to their body size. The elderly also are a high risk population for heat related illnesses.
So how do you treat dehydration and heat stroke? In cases of mild dehydration, simple rehydration is recommended by drinking fluids.
Many sports drinks on the market, such as Gatorade, effectively restore body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance. For moderate dehydration, intravenous fluids may be required, although if caught early enough, simple rehydration may be effective. Cases of serious dehydration should be treated as a medical emergency, and hospitalization, along with intravenous fluids, is necessary. Immediate action should be taken.
Treatment for heat stroke should be swift and decisive.
• Get the person indoors.
• Remove clothing and gently apply cool water to the skin followed by fanning to stimulate sweating.
• Apply ice packs to the groin and armpits.
• Have the person lie down in a cool area with their feet slightly elevated.
Intravenous fluids are often necessary to compensate for fluid or electrolyte loss. Bed rest is generally advised and body temperature may fluctuate abnormally for weeks after heat stroke.
The bottom line is, have fun this summer, but don’t neglect your body. Pay attention to how long you are out in the heat and don’t forget to give grandma and grandpa a call occasionally to make sure they’re ok – you’ll be there someday.
Interesting fact: The surface area of a human lung is equal to a tennis court.
Since we’re on the subject of fluid loss, just breathing can cause loss of fluids in the water vapor during exhaling, so if the surface area of a lung is equal to a tennis court, just imagine how much water vapor is lost.