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Tips for preventing heat injury

  • Published
  • By Maj. Paul S. Ward
  • 559th Medical Group
Whether this is your first summer in San Antonio or your fiftieth, everyone knows it gets hot here. Even young healthy people succumb to heat if they participate in strenuous activities during hot weather. Some very simple common sense steps can be taken to prevent heat injuries.

During hot weather, increase your fluid intake regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink. If exercising in a hot climate, drink 16-32 ounces of cool fluids each hour. Heavy sweating removes electrolytes from the body, which are essential for the body to function properly. Sports beverages can replace lost electrolytes, but if you are on a low salt diet, consult your doctor before exercising. Do not use alcohol containing drinks to attempt to stay hydrated.

When exercising in the heat, choose light weight, light colored, loose fitting clothing. Also, apply sun screen and wear a hat. Schedule your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. The hottest part of every day is from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Pace yourself. If you are not used to being outside, take it slow. If your heart is pounding and you are gasping for breath, slow down.

Some people are at greater risk than others. Children and people over 65 years old as well as overweight folks are prone to heat injuries. If you suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure or take certain medication for depression, insomnia or poor circulation you can be affected by extreme heat. Do not leave children or pets in a parked car. Do not overlook any children who may have fallen asleep. But despite all these steps, heat injuries can still occur.

Heat stroke is a killer. The victim will be red, hot and the skin will be dry. A throbbing headache will be present along with nausea and dizziness. The victim's oral temperature may be 103 Fahrenheit or higher. Confusion followed by loss of consciousness often occurs. This is a medical emergency. Call 911. Get the victim to a cool shady area. Cool the victim any way you can while awaiting the ambulance. Do not give the victim something to drink. Sometimes a victim's muscles will begin to twitch uncontrollably. If this happens, keep the victim from hurting themselves but do not place any object in the mouth or give fluids.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of a heat-related illness that can develop over several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid and electrolyte replacement. The warning signs are heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and fainting. If untreated, heat stroke may occur. Treat these symptoms with cool non-alcoholic beverages, rest, a cool shower or bath, wear lightweight clothing and get to an air conditioned environment.

Heat Cramps are muscle pains or spasms usually in the abdomen, arms or legs that may occur in association with strenuous activity. The cramping is caused by salt and fluid depletion. Heat cramps can also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. If you have heart problems or are on a low sodium diet, get medical attention for heat cramps.

The number one preventative step that can be taken is stay out of the heat and turn on your air conditioner. Drinking plenty of fluids and consuming foods and drinks high in electrolytes such as sodium and potassium can help prevent disaster. Alcoholic beverages will act as a diuretic which will cause you to urinate and sweat off more fluid and electrolytes than normal, increasing your chances for heat injury. For more information go to:
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