A Guide to Safety During The Summer Heat
Its summertime and many of us get away and relax by being outside. Even something as routine as mowing the grass or spending the day at the beach can be dangerous when the temperatures start to rise.
Take this typical scenario a telephone triage nurse may encounter. You are working the evening shift of a long Memorial Day weekend. Lots of sun, warm weather and callers with complaints of sun burn. One call in particular catches your attention. This call is from the concerned parent of a 12 year old. The mother tells you that her son is complaining of dizziness, a headache, fatigue and muscle cramps. He isn’t eating well this evening and says he feels nauseated. He is sweating a lot and seems a little “ off ” – slower to respond than normal, but still oriented. You start your assessment, asking the basic questions of when did this start, is he healthy, does he take any medications and then you ask the most important question of the call, “ What was he doing right before these symptoms started ? ” The mother relays that they had been out at the beach all day and he was swimming and running up and down in the hot sand. He didn’t stop to drink much fluids and certainly didn’t want to rest in the shade. The weather that day was in the high 90’s.
You recognize this child’s symptoms as those of possible heat exhaustion and pull up your protocol for the same. You rule out the most emergent symptoms of seizures, confusion, shock symptoms or high fevers and are able to give the mother home care advice and warning symptoms that need to be evaluated in the Emergency Room. You hang up reassured that this child will be okay.
Many people do not recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion which without proper intervention can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain or other vital organs and even cause death.
Anyone is susceptible to heat injuries, but those at highest risk are children under the age of four and adults over 65 (Heat Exhaustion). These age groups tend to adjust to heat more slowly than other age groups. Certain health conditions, such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes and mental illness, can also place individuals at higher risk for heat related injuries.
Certain medications can make a person more sensitive to sun and decrease one’s ability to cope with heat. Anyone taking diuretics, sedatives, stimulants, and heart and blood pressure medications should check with their physicians or pharmacists before heading out in the heat.
How to protect yourself in the heat.
The safest thing to do when the heat index is high is to stay indoors in the air conditioning. This is not always possible so there are other precautions you can take. Wear light colored, light weight clothing and a wide brimmed hat to protect your skin. Use sunscreen with SPF of 30 or more. Drink extra fluids to prevent dehydration. Water, fruit juice or sports drinks are preferred. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol when out in the heat, both of these can cause you to lose more fluids leading to dehydration.
Just like our patient above, if you are out in the heat and start to feel dizzy, develop a headache, fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea or confusion, head for the air conditioning and drink lots of the above mentioned fluids. If your symptoms do not improve in a few hours, it is best to seek medical attention.