Heat-related illnesses with Dr. Dylan

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With the hot summer days approaching their are a few heat-related injuries to look out for. Dr. Dylan Wyatt, an emergency medicine physician at St. Luke’s explains mild heat illness, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Mild Heat Illness: The most common heat-related injury is dehydration – which simply means your body does not have enough fluid. This is both an issue with not drinking enough and losing more water. In summertime we sweat more, leading to increased fluid loss. Signs you could be dehydrated include feeling thirsty, having a headache, or feeling tired – but early on there are no symptoms at all!

Electrolytes such as sodium and chloride are also lost through sweating. If only water is used to hydrate, there can be mild electrolyte imbalances in the muscles that lead to cramping. If this occurs to you, especially while exercising in the heat, it’s a sign to stop your activity and replace your electrolytes with electrolyte beverages.

If you’re concerned you may become dehydrated, take a rest in the shade or in air conditioning and drink some water. If you’ve been out in the heat for a long time, you should also drink some electrolyte replacement beverages or gels as well to avoid heat cramping. Remember that staying ahead with your hydration is much better than trying to catch up if you fall behind.

Heat Exhaustion: When dehydration and electrolyte loss progress, heat exhaustion can develop. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, nausea or vomiting, or racing heart. At this point, you MUST get out of the heat and stop physical activity. If you cannot immediately leave the heat, drinking cold fluids or placing ice packs in your armpits can temporarily help keep your temperature down until you can get out of the heat. Replace the lost fluids with a mix of water and electrolyte beverages aggressively until you feel the symptoms improve. If you still feel symptoms after drinking lots of fluids or can’t keep fluids down due to nausea or vomiting, or if you have chronic medical conditions or are elderly you should seek medical attention immediately.

Importantly, make sure the affected individual is thinking normally. If this changes they are now suffering from heat stroke – a life-threatening emergency that needs immediate treatment.

Heat Stroke: The most severe form of heat related illness, with all the symptoms of heat exhaustion plus confusion or a change in thought process. This mental change is far more reliable in detecting heat stroke than the classic teaching of “when someone is no longer sweating”.

Heat stroke can occur quickly – such as in competitors during an athletic event – or slowly over the course of several days in children and the elderly.

If you see someone having symptoms of heat stroke, call 911. Then, try to get them out of the heat if you can (even moving them to the shade from the sun can help) and wait for help to arrive.