Russell J. Otto, MD, FACS, Denton LIVING WELL Magazine
Summertime brings with it the promise of warmer temperatures and outdoor activities. That combination can spell trouble if certain precautions are not taken. Injury due to the hot outdoor temperatures can easily occur. Knowing how to recognize a problem, being aware of contributing factors, and knowing what to do about it can be life saving.
Heat injury can manifest as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, in order of increasing severity. The symptoms of each may blur together, making things more difficult. They all have dehydration as a common factor. Cramps can occur after excessive sweating and salt loss. They typically develop in the calf or hamstring muscles. Other explanations for the cramps involve fatigue as a causative factor.
Heat exhaustion is more serious in nature. It typically occurs after the activity out in the heat. The affected person may feel dizzy and weak and look pale. The heart rate will be increased, sweating would be excessive, and body temperature is increased. Treatment includes moving to a cool place, rest, and drinking water or a sports drink. Improvement and recovery typically happens within 30 minutes.
Heat stroke in more severe and can be life-threatening or lead to various serious complications. Symptoms are similar to heat exhaustion but the body temperature is higher, blood pressure drops, confusion or agitation is seen, a seizure may occur, or the person may become unconscious. Immediate medical attention is required. While waiting for help, begin cooling with icy wet towels applied to the skin and with a fan to increase evaporation. Give a cool sports drink or water if the person is able to swallow without choking.
The risk of heat injury can be minimized. Avoid outdoor activity during the mid-day hours. Use extra caution in high humidity since it makes sweating less effective as a cooling mechanism. Gradually get used to doing activities out in the heat. Drink plenty of fluids and rest more frequently while in the heat. Be careful with factors that can increase the risk of heat injury such as antihistamines, certain blood pressure medications, caffeine, and alcohol.
Russell J. Otto, MD, FACS is available by appointment by calling 940-891-6100.