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Staying Cool & Hydrated: What to Know about Heat Illness

Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Jonathan Goodnight, MD

Summer may seem like the perfect time to catch up on your long-overdue yard work, but be wary — the hot summer heat is no joke. As temperatures begin to peak above the 90s in North Carolina, be prepared to combat the heat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during 2004-2018, an average of 702 heat-related deaths occurred in the United States each year. Heat illness can be deadly, so make sure to stay cool and hydrated this summer.

“Heat illness is a continuum of increasingly severe processes that are triggered and worsened by increased temperature. The most severe form, heatstroke, is life-threatening,” said Johnathan Goodnight, a physician at Family Care Center of Taylorsville, part of the Iredell Physician Network.

Heat illness occurs when your body temperature gets dangerously high, and your body is unable to cool itself down through natural mechanisms, like sweating. In extremely high temperatures, sweating may not be enough to lower your body temperature, leading to potential damage to your brain and other vital organs.

Adults age 65 and older, very young children, and those with underlying chronic health conditions, are more susceptible to heat illness.

The most common heat-related illnesses are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

Heat Cramps
Heat cramps are a sign that your body cannot handle the high heat. These cramps occur in elevated temperatures, when your body is dehydrated, and are typically associated with increased physical activity.

According to Goodnight, symptoms of heat cramps include heavy sweating, intense muscle pain, and painful cramps. You may experience heat cramps in your abdomen, arms, or legs.

If you suspect you are having a heat cramp, stop the physical activity and move to a cool area. Sip on some water or a sports drink to get your body rehydrated.

According to the CDC, if your cramp lasts longer than one hour, you are on a low sodium diet, or you have a heart condition, seek medical attention.

Heat Exhaustion
Like many of us, you may feel tired or drained after being in the sun; however, heat exhaustion is much more than this. Heat exhaustion can develop gradually, even several days after exposure to high temperatures, and can cause several symptoms.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include profuse sweating, cool and pale skin, high heart rate, fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea, dizziness, headache, and even fainting.

“If you are experiencing heat exhaustion, move to a cool area, loosen clothing, use a cool compress, and slowly drink fluids,” said Goodnight.

If your symptoms worsen or continue for more than one hour, you should seek medical help.

Heatstroke is the most severe form of heat illness and can cause major health implications, disability, and even death.

Heatstroke is considered a medical emergency and occurs when your body is completely unable to control its temperature.

During a heatstroke, your body temperature can rise to 106 degrees or higher within just 10 to 15 minutes.

In addition to a high body temperature, other symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Hot, red, damp, or dry skin
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Unconsciousness

According to Goodnight, if you or someone you know is experiencing a heatstroke, call 911 immediately. Move the person to a cool area and place cool cloths or water on them. Do not drink anything since there may be an altered level of consciousness and fluids cannot be safely given.

Reduce your risk
This summer, take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from the heat.

You can reduce your risk for heat illness by planning activities during cooler parts of the day, being adequately hydrated, and recognizing warning signs early, according to Goodnight.

“Don’t forget to check on elderly relatives during the summer. Heat illness can happen with very little activity and even indoors,” said Goodnight.

Goodnight is a primary care physician at the Family Care Center of Taylorsville and is accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, please call the office at 828-632-9736.