Preventing Heat Related Illness


Studies reveal a notable increase in conditions like heat-related illness, electrolyte imbalances, and dehydration during these extreme summer months, mainly because people may not fully comprehend the life-threatening risks associated with prolonged exposure to high temperatures. 

Safeguarding your well-being involves careful consideration of various factors, including the rise in temperature experienced during the hot and humid climate prevalent in the Midwest region. The heat wave that has scorched much of the American South and Southwest is now spreading throughout the Midwest, bringing temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, dangerous conditions for millions of people and pleas from state and local officials to avoid the outdoors. This extreme heat and humidity will spread across the region, particularly on Wednesday, meteorologists said, while warning that the intense heat and humidity could linger for days. In cities like St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., temperatures could be 10 to 20 degrees above normal, and heat index readings, which consider both temperature and humidity, will reach into the 100s!

It is essential to understand that our bodies possess intricate mechanisms to maintain a temperature around 98.6°F, with one of the most efficient cooling methods being the evaporation of sweat from our skin. However, a significant challenge arises when humidity levels are high, exceeding 50%, as the excess moisture in the air slows down sweat evaporation, leading to reduced cooling efficiency. When our body temperature climbs to 103°F and above, it can impede normal bodily functions. Swift cooling methods, such as ice baths, cold towels, or applying cool objects to specific areas like the head, neck, groin, and armpits, can be highly effective in cooling down the body. 

Several heat-related illnesses can be linked to dehydration and insufficient acclimatization. Among these are exercise-associated heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Symptoms shared with dehydration include thirst, irritability, headache, weakness, nausea/vomiting, cramps, and dizziness. Adequate rest, cooling down, fluid replenishment, and electrolyte intake can help alleviate these conditions. Heat stroke, however, is a life-threatening situation, characterized by a core body temperature of 104°F or higher, accompanied by symptoms like aggression, confusion, loss of consciousness, and rapid pulse. Heat stroke necessitates immediate medical attention, with a call to emergency services (911) and rapid cooling of the body. 

To steer clear of heat-related illnesses, it is prudent to adhere to these guidelines: 

    • Opt for loose-fitting and lightweight clothing to facilitate proper body cooling.
  • SPF 15+
    • Guard against sunburn by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Regularly reapply sunscreen, especially if swimming or sweating.
    • Stay adequately hydrated to support sweating and maintain a normal body temperature.
    • Avoid hot, heavy foods – they raise your body temperature.
    • Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body that need to be replaced. A sports drink can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.
      • If you are on a low-salt diet, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.
    • Exercise caution with certain medications that might affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.
    • Never leave anyone, especially children or pets, unattended in a parked car, as this can lead to heat-related deaths due to rapid temperature rise inside the vehicle.
    • Limit strenuous activities during the hottest parts of the day, opting for cooler periods like early morning or evening for exercise or physical labor.
    • Gradually acclimate yourself to hot weather conditions, especially if you are not accustomed to them, as it may take several weeks for your body to adjust.
    • Stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a mall or public library—even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
    • Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, they will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a better way to cool off.
    • Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.

By adhering to these guidelines and being mindful of the risks posed by high temperatures, you can better protect your health during the sweltering summer months in the Midwest. Always prioritize your well-being and take proactive measures to enjoy a safe and pleasant season. 

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Stay cool. Stay hydrated. Stay informed.


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