Heat-Related Emergencies are a Concern During Summer Months

Now that summer has arrived and many of us are spending more time outside, it’s wise to be aware that warmer temperatures can create situations that bring harm to our bodies.

In the coming days, we can expect to see temperatures consistently in the 80s and low 90s, and it’s important to take steps to keep cool and healthy during this time of the year.

While it’s common for individuals to take precautions when the weather gets really hot during June, July, August and September, without taking the proper precautions, heatstroke or heat exhaustion may occur once temperatures hit 80 degrees or the humidity reaches above 75 percent.

Heatstroke is a condition marked by fever and often by unconsciousness, caused by failure of the body's temperature-regulating mechanism when exposed to excessively high temperatures along with dehydration. That dangerous combination may cause the core body temperature to reach or exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point, the situation becomes a medical emergency that may result in brain injury or possibly death.

It’s vital to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, which can include a headache, confusion, delirium, slurred speech or seizures, an altered sweating pattern (either no sweat despite warm temperatures or sudden excessive sweating), nausea or vomiting, flushed skin, rapid, shallow breathing or a racing pulse. It’s important to note that children and the elderly are most susceptible to these conditions.

To prevent difficulties with the heat, I recommend these suggestions:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink more water than you normally would, and don’t let yourself get thirsty. When you begin to feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated.
  • Air conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness. If you do not have air conditioning, spend time at a nearby air-conditioned place such as a friend’s house or public facilities such as shopping malls or libraries.
  • Wear loose, lightweight and light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid strenuous activities outside if possible. If you must participate in physical labor or activity outdoors, take frequent breaks in a shaded or air-conditioned space, and hydrate often with water and sports drinks.
  • Protect against sunburn, which can affect the body’s ability to cool down. Wear a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher if you will be outdoors, and reapply every two hours.
  • Never leave a child, or anyone, in a car on a hot day, even if you crack a window. The internal temperature of a car can skyrocket 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes.

If you or someone you are with begins to experience these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately by calling 911. Get to a cool, shaded place, remove unnecessary clothing, cool the body by spraying with cool water and hydrate.

To learn more about heat-related injuries, contact your health care provider. If you do not have a primary health care provider, please call 317-880-3838. Eskenazi Health West 38th Street is our newest health center and offers primary and specialty care services.

Dr. Maria Robles
Internal Medicine
Eskenazi Health West 38th Street

This column originally appeared in The Speedway Town Press, where Dr. Robles has a monthly column.