Too Hot to Handle: Heat-Related Illness

sun-cloudThis week we’re lucky to be enjoying a nice little cool front here in Northwest Arkansas. It’s typically pretty hot in Arkansas this time of year. While some people try and seek the refuge of air conditioning until it’s safe to go outside in September, plenty of us will brave the summer sun for the sake of nature.

However, you have to be careful in these late summer months. Heat-related illness is a real danger when it’s sweltering out, especially for kids, who might be having too much fun to pay attention to the warning signs.

  • Dehydration – This might be the most common heat-related illness. The hotter it is, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more dehydrated you get. If you combine high temps with physical activity, you need to make sure you’re drinking lots of water. Whatever you’re doing, you should bring buckets (figurative or literal) of water and drink it. The thing about dehydration is that people underestimate it. They don’t think it’s a big deal, but it can be the first step to a more serious illness.
  • Sun poisoning – This is a more intense term for a severe case of sunburn. This isn’t the type of sunburn that you poke to watch change from white back to red in child-like delight. It’s the type of sunburn that makes you look like a Slim Jim and has you rolling in agony if anyone touches you. It can cause blistering, swelling, fevers, faintness, and is pretty serious. To prevent sun poisoning from happening wear sunscreen and protective clothing. Also limit direct sunlight while the sun is at its most menacing (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.)
  • Heat exhaustion – When you’re out in the sun for days at a time, it can catch up with you. That’s typically when heat exhaustion sets in. There are two main types of heat exhaustion: water depletion and salt depletion. If you’re feeling weak, light-headed, nauseous, or fatigued you could be suffering from heat exhaustion. It’s not as serious as heat stroke, but it can still be dangerous. If untreated, heat stroke can lead to brain damage or damage to other vital organs.
  • Heat stroke – If each heat-related illness was a different evil villain from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, heat stroke would be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat-related illness, and is a medical emergency. It can kill or damage the brain or other organs. It’s downright nasty. The older you are the higher your risk for heat stroke, but it can also affect those who are young and healthy. Clinically, a heat stroke is when your body temperature is over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but symptoms can range from headaches, dizziness, nausea, and seizures.  If you think someone is suffering from heat stroke call a paramedic.

To avoid heat-related illness you should drink lots of water, wear sunscreen and or protective clothing (hats, sunglasses, etc), and avoid going out during the peak sun hours. Listen to what your body is telling you. If you start to feel faint, find some water and some shade to cool down for a few minutes. Just remember to use your best judgement, especially if you’re out on your own.

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