As temperatures rise to the highest we have seen this summer in Central Indiana, the risk of heat-related illness also rise. Emergency physicians at Eskenazi Health urge you to take steps to keep cool and healthy this summer.

A common misconception about heat-related illnesses, such as heatstroke or heat exhaustion, is that they only occur in extreme temperatures. In reality, any temperature above 80 degrees or humidity above 75 percent can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions, especially when participating in physical labor or activities.

Heat-induced emergencies happen more quickly and more frequently than most people realize,” said Dr. Tyler Stepsis, emergency medicine physician in the Michael & Susan Smith Emergency Department at Eskenazi Health. “And it happens faster in children and those over about 65 years of age.”

Heatstroke occurs when your body becomes unable to regulate its own temperature, and it can cause serious damage if not recognized and treated. On average, more than 650 people die annually due to heatstroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other dangerous heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion, which is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt (usually through sweating), and heat cramps, which cause pain or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs due to excessive sweating.

Children and the elderly are most susceptible to these conditions due to their weaker central nervous systems; a child’s body temperature rises about five times faster than that of a healthy adult. You could also be at a higher risk of heat-related illness if you have a chronic medical condition or take certain medications that affect the body’s ability to stay hydrated or respond to heat, such as vasoconstrictors, beta blockers, diuretics or antidepressants.

To prevent conditions like heatstroke on a hot day, emergency medicine physicians recommend several precautions:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you do not have air-conditioning in your home, find relief by visiting an air conditioned location nearby, such as a friend’s house, public library or mall.
  • 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.

It is also important 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.

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.

The Michael & Susan Smith Emergency Department is one of the busiest emergency departments in the state, treating more than 100,000 patients each year. For more information, please visit EskenaziHealth.edu.

Requests for interviews with a physician in the Michael & Susan Smith Emergency Department may be made by contacting Tom Surber at 317.880.4793 or thomas.surber@eskenazihealth.edu or by paging 317.310.5972.