Enjoying summer SAFELY
Summer's the time to be outdoors enjoying the great weather, but the outdoors has a few hidden dangers of which to beware. One of the most common summer fears are heat exhaustion / heat stroke.
Heat Exhaustion / Heat Stroke
Normally, our body is able to easily regulate our body temperature through the cooling mechanism of sweat. The evaporation of sweat from skin accounts for 90% of our cooling ability. But on hot, very humid days, our cooling mechanism is extremely inefficient and it becomes relatively easy to overheat because the sweat cannot evaporate. Physical exertion of any kind raises body temperatures and speeds up the overheating process.
Heat exhaustion is the more mild form of heat disease and is marked by fatigue, exhaustion, nausea, lightheadedness, and possibly heat cramps. Heat exhaustion usually comes on several hours after physical exertion, sometimes even after an individual has drunk to replace the lost fluids because the lost electrolytes have not been replaced.
Heat exhaustion is not life-threatening but should be treated by drinking an electrolyte replenishing drink or slightly salty water, and resting in a cool area.
Heat stroke, on the other hand, is a life-threatening emergency and needs to be recognized and treated immediately. Heat stroke occurs when the body generates heat faster than the body can shed it, causing one's core temperature to rise. When the core temperature rises, the brain, which can only function in a very narrow temperature range, begins to fail. Death can occur in as little as 30 minutes. It is very important to activate the EMS system in your area by calling 911 as soon as an overheating situation is suspected.
Because of the overheating of the brain, symptoms include disorientation, combativeness, and hallucinations. The skin will also usually appear red and hot. If these symptoms are noted or even suspected, call 911 and action should be taken immediately to cool the victim. Soak the victim with water, fanning the skin to increase evaporation. Massage extremities to encourage the return of cool blood to the core. Ice packs, if available, should be placed at the neck, armpits, and groin. If possible, get the victim to drink fluids, although this may be impossible with impaired mental condition. All heat stroke victims must be taken to the hospital to continue the cooling process.
PREVENTION: Of course the easiest way to deal with heat-related illnesses is to avoid them altogether. Three simple rules of thumb should be followed: 1) Stay well hydrated and eat salty snacks. 2) Rest often, out of the sun. 3) Wear clothing that allows for evaporation (cotton is best) and wear a brimmed hat or cap.
Adapted from Medicine for the Bakcountry by Buck Tilton M.S. and Frank Hubbell D.O.
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