Exerting on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses.
Knowing the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun can easily help one in providing the essential first aid.
Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Recognising heat stroke
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:
An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally); red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating); rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; unconsciousness.
What to do
If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin ‘cooling’ down of the patient. Do the following: Transfer the patient to a shady area; ‘cool’ the patient rapidly using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the patient in a tub of cool water; place the person under a cool shower or sponge the person with cool water; monitor body temperature, and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F; do not give the patient fluids to drink; get medical assistance as soon as possible.
Sometimes a patient’s muscles might begin to twitch uncontrollably as a result of heat stroke. If this happens, keep the patient from injuring himself, but do not place any object in the mouth and do not give fluids. If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the patient on his or her side.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat.
Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
Recognising heat exhaustion
Heavy sweating; paleness; muscle cramps; tiredness; weakness; dizziness; headache; nausea or vomiting; fainting. The skin may be cool and moist. Pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention immediately if any of the following occurs: The patient has heart problems or high BP; otherwise, help the patient to cool off, and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour.
What to do
Cooling measures that may be effective include the following: Cool, non-alcoholic beverages; rest; cool shower, bath, or sponge bath; an air-conditioned environment; lightweight clothing.
Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles may be the cause of heat cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
Recognising heat cramps
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms — usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs — that may occur in association with strenuous activity. If you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet, get medical attention for heat cramps.
What to do
If medical attention is not necessary, take these steps: Stop all activity, sit quietly in a cool place; drink clear juice or a sports beverage; do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside as further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke; seek medical attention if cramps don’t subside in an hour.
Dr Sandeep Budhiraja is Chief, Max Institute of Internal Medicine, Max Healthcare