Nearly every geographical area in the USA has been experiencing unusual weather trends. Speaking about my area – Connecticut, Massachusetts and the northeastern states – I can say it was unseasonably warm this winter, and spring has been lovely.
Lately we have had good rainfall and are catching up to yearly averages. This week and through Memorial Day, our temperatures are expected to soar into the 90’s. It’s only spring, and already the temps are heading up, up, and up.
Certainly, the National Weather Service’s declaration of “Heat Safety Awareness Day” on May 25 is timely. By all weather predictions, our region will be roasting, and people will be seeking relief.
Considering the Heat Safety Awareness efforts of the Weather Service, I have brushed up on my personal knowledge of just what to do during a true hot snap.
When the mercury hits 90 degrees or above, many people are at risk of heat exhaustion, which can progress to heatstroke if not immediately managed. Babies, young children and older folks are at greater risk to be affected by heat. Also, people with health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, alcohol use, and dehydration are highly susceptible to heat. The threat of heat illness becomes more complicated when the soaring temp is accompanied by poor air quality or high humidity.
Heat exhaustion comes about as the human body makes efforts to control its internal thermometer. The body relies on control mechanisms such as directing blood to the skin, by sweating, and by even heavier sweating. This causes the body to lose water and salts. If that loss gets excessive, heat exhaustion develops. Further, If the affected person continues his or her exposure to high temps, heat exhaustion can quickly turn into heatstroke, and now the problems are very serious, possibly life-threatening.
During heatstroke, the body’s cooling processes begin to malfunction. If the body spirals into dangerous dehydration levels, body temperature rapidly rises.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion·
- Excessive and heavy sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling light-headed
- Extreme exhaustion, tiredness
- Pupils dilated
- Headache, possibly severe
- Muscle cramps
Progressive symptoms of heatstroke
- Body temperature rises quickly
- Rapid heartbeat
- Elevated or lowered blood pressure
- Cessation of sweating
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Fainting (may be first sign in the elderly)
If you suspect heatstroke
- Move the person out of the sun immediately.
- Relocate him or her in shade or an air-conditioned space.
- Call 911 or emergency medical help.
- Pupils constricted
- Cool the person by covering with damp sheets or by spraying with cool water.
- Fan the person with a folded newspaper or fan.
- Administer cool water or nonalcoholic beverage (avoid caffeine).
The potential life-threatening danger of heatstroke is that the body cannot deal with the extremes caused by the heat stress. Body temperature can exceed 104 F, or 40 C. Personality and mental status changes kick in, followed by confusion and even coma. The skin may feel hot and dry. If the heatstroke results from exertion due to sports, the skin may be moist.
Heat illness sets in rapidly. According to a position paper (in 2007) by the American College of Sports Medicine, “Exercising can raise core body temperature by almost 2 degrees every five minutes if no heat is removed from the body.”
“When a person’s core body temperature rises to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, a critical threshold, the consequences can be dire.”
Science cannot explain why some of us are more affected by heat.
Douglas Casa, who is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut, confirms this. If a person is overweight, overusing alcohol, or wearing heavy or tightly-woven clothing, heat exhaustion is swift. “I’m all in favor of naked practice sessions,” Casa says.” I think, “Too many abrasions.” Now seriously –
Still, the predisposing factor that contributes to heat illness, is our unpreparedness – lack of acclimation to heat.
Says Casa, “It’s much harder for the body to cope with heat if it’s not used to it.”
Sources: BBC, NY Times, Mayo Clinic
Heidi Rucki writes for The Examiner, DressYourHorse.com and her blog sites.
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