Since May 1, MedStar personnel have treated 264 patients with heat-related conditions. Last year during the same time period, MedStar treated 180 patients with heat-related symptoms.
This week is predicted to be the longest period of temperatures above 100 degrees since 2016, so it’s a good time to remember that prolonged or intense exposure to high temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses large amounts of water and salt through excessive sweating, particularly through hard physical labor or exercise. This loss of essential fluids can disturb circulation and interfere with brain function. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include flu-like symptoms such as paleness, sweating, nausea and vomiting. Children and the elderly are especially susceptible.
Heatstroke is a life-threatening problem that occurs when the body suffers from long, intense exposure to heat and loses its ability to cool itself. Heatstroke occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature and body temperature continues to rise.
“Often, we respond to people who are going about their regular work or daily activities, but don’t realize how quickly heat can affect them,” said Macara Trusty, a paramedic with MedStar. “If you’re going to be doing anything outdoors during the high-temperature summer months, we recommend drinking plenty of water and frequently cooling off in the shade or indoors.”
Untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke suddenly and cause unconsciousness within minutes. Some of the most common signs of heatstroke include confusion, vomiting, flushed and dry skin, rapid heart rate, decreased sweating, shortness of breath, decreased urination, increased body temperature (104 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit), or convulsions.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If you or someone you know starts experiencing any of these symptoms, immediately call 911.
While heatstroke and heat exhaustion are common this time of year, they can be easily prevented:
Hydrate. Drink plenty of water during the day, especially if you are engaged in any strenuous activity. Sports drinks are a good choice if you’re exercising or working in hot conditions, but water is a good way to hydrate as well.
Ventilate. Stay in a place where there is plenty of air circulating to keep your body cool. If you are indoors and don’t have access to air conditioning, open windows and use a fan.
Cover up. Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing to avoid absorbing the sun’s light and trapping heat. Wear a hat to shield yourself from the sun, but once you feel yourself getting warm, remove any items covering your head, which can trap heat close to your body.
Limit activity. Heatstroke can occur in less than an hour when you are participating in strenuous activity during a hot day. If you feel yourself getting hot or light-headed, stop your activity and rest in a cool place out of the sun. Be sure to drink water or a sports drink before, during and after any strenuous activity.
Check on loved ones. The elderly are especially vulnerable to heat-related emergencies. Many elderly residents are not aware of how hot it may get in their residence. Call on older friends and family members regularly to assure they are doing OK.
Don’t leave kids in hot cars. Every summer, police, fire departments and MedStar respond to calls where a child is left in a hot car. Too often, these calls end in tragedy. Do not leave children unattended in cars and be sure your vehicles are secured to prevent a curious child from becoming trapped in the car on a hot day.
(These recommendations are good for your pets, too.)