What You Need to Know About Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke

The Texas summer is fast approaching and there are several key things to remember in order to have a happy and SAFE summer.

The heat and humidity can be brutal and is probably one of the most obvious hazards that one has to be aware of in a Texas summer. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can’t be taken lightly! According to the CDC, they caused 8,015 deaths in the United States from 1979 to 2003.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent disability or death. Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness, and can usually be treated and stopped before it progresses to the more dangerous heat stroke.

Signs and symptoms of heat-related illness (heat exhaustion) include: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fainting, increased pulse and rapid breathing. Symptoms of progressing heat-related illness (heat stroke) are a high body temperature, red, hot and dry skin (no sweating), rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Again, remember this is a medical emergency and immediate medical attention is required.

Almost all heat-related illness can be prevented! Protecting yourself includes: an air conditioned environment, staying well hydrated (with non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages), rest, a cool shower or bath, and refraining from strenuous activities.

Dehydration is another common “summer” issue that makes us more susceptible to heat-related illness (and other medical issues, too). It is most frequently caused by a reduced fluid intake and a rise in demand by the body (usually through sweating or respiration). Symptoms of dehydration include: decreased urine output and/or dark urine (this is actually one of the best indicators), fatigue, muscle cramps, altered mental status (confusion or difficulty thinking), constipation, and thirst. Again, dehydration is mostly preventable by increasing fluid intake with hotter temperatures and increases in physical activity.

Another safety challenge of Texas’ warmer temperatures is safe food handling. There are 24-81 million cases of foodborne illnesses each year. The increasing temperatures bring enhanced opportunities for bacteria to grow in our food. Seafood, mayonnaise-based foods, meats, fruits and vegetables all have a high potential to become contaminated and cause food poisoning. Symptoms of foodborne illness include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, bloody stools and fever.

The most common culprits are Staph Aures (found in respiratory passages of humans), Salmonella (found in intestinal tracts of humans and animals), Clostridium perfringus (found in dust, soil and gastrointestinal tracts of humans and animals), Clostridium botulinum (found in soil, plants marine sediment and fish), Listeria (found in soil, vegetation and water), Campylobacter (animal reservoirs), E. Coli (found in intestinal tracts of animals and humans) and Calicivirus – Norwalk virus (transmitted person to person).

Foodborne illnesses can be PREVENTED! Safe food handling includes: washing your hands before and after touching ALL foods, marinating and defrosting foods in the refrigerator, washing all fruits and vegetables, changing plates/cutting boards when using raw foods, maintain foods at correct temperatures (hot foods: HOT! cold foods: COLD!), and not letting foods “sit out” for more than one hour during warmer temperatures. Report all suspected foodborne illness to the local health department.

While you are out enjoying your Texas summer, it is imperative that you protect your skin. According to the American Cancer Society there were 12,000 skin cancer deaths in the US in 2005. Additionally, skin cancer is one of the fastest growing diagnosis categories. Using sunscreen (SPF of 30 or greater), wearing protective clothing, avoiding direct sun during the hours of 10:00am – 4:00pm and annual dermatology visits are all steps in preventing skin cancer.

Here are a few more summer safety tips: take steps to prevent the transmission of West Nile Virus (transmitted by mosquitoes), be aware of water safety procedures, stay informed regarding the weather (tornadoes and thunderstorms), and be aware of ozone days (respiratory distress).

With these few reminders and good old common sense, summer in Texas can be enjoyable and SAFE!

To find out more about summer safety, home health care or geriatric care management contact Carey Coleman, RN and Professional Geriatric Care Manager at Senior Select Home Health.  972-569-8157