Hot enough for ya? Tips to handle the heat from UAB Emergency Medicine

Heat illness can be a serious matter, say UAB emergency physicians. Be prepared, and be safe.

heat thermThe National Weather Service is calling for extreme heat in much of the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States this week. A heat dome will cover much of the country, including Alabama, with temperatures in the middle and upper 90s. The heat index is forecast to be between 100 and 108 degrees.

Janyce Sanford, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine in the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says heat illness can be a dangerous, even fatal, condition.

“The body uses sweating to cool itself; but with extreme temperatures, high humidity and a high heat index, body temperature can rise to dangerous levels,” Sanford said. “Older adults, young children and those with pre-existing conditions are at highest risk; but anyone can develop heat-related illnesses under the right conditions.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists four different types of heat illness:

  • Heatstroke: a life-threatening illness in which body temperature may rise above 106° F in minutes
  • Heat exhaustion: an illness that can precede heatstroke
  • Heat cramps: muscle pains or spasms that happen during heavy exercise
  • Heat rash: skin irritation from excessive sweating

“Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are the two most dangerous conditions,” Sanford said. “Heat stroke is a medical emergency — call 911 immediately if heat stroke is suspected.”

Symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness
  • Cold, pale, clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

“Move the person to a cooler location and have them lie down, while loosening their clothing,” Sanford suggested. “Apply wet, cool cloths to as much of the body as possible, and have them sip water.”

Signs of heat stroke are:

  • High body temperature, above 103 degrees
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Rapid and strong pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Possible unconsciousness

“Call 911 and move the person to a cooler environment,” Sanford said. “Reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths or even a bath, but do not give fluids.”

The CDC offers these tips on how to avoid heat illness:

  • Drink two to four cups of water every hour while working or active outside. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink.
  • Avoid alcohol or liquids containing large amounts of sugar.
  • Wear and reapply sunscreen as indicated on the package.
  • Schedule tasks for earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat.
  • Wear a brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Take breaks, preferably in an air-conditioned area.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you or a someone with you has symptoms of heat-related illness.

“Drink water, take breaks and don’t try to do too much if you are outside in the heat,” Sanford said. “And don’t forget to check on elderly friends and neighbors. The heat is difficult for pets, too, so bring your dogs and cats inside during the worst of the day’s heat.”