During an average summer, some 200 people across the country die due to heat injuries from exposure to high summer temperatures.
Clearly, heat can be a force, particularly in Southern California, where temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in the suburban valleys and 110 degrees in the low desert areas are not uncommon during the summer and fall.
Overexposure to heat or excessive exercise in the heat also can cause other injuries. The severity of such injuries increases with age; heat cramps in a younger person may be heat exhaustion in a middle-aged person, but may be heatstroke in an elderly person. This occurs because the person has not adapted to the heat and is unable to adjust to changes in the body.
Heat Conditions, Symptoms and First Aid
What you might see in a heat injury
is usually a first-degree burn that involves just the outer surface of the skin. Symptoms include redness and pain. Severe cases may cause swelling, blisters, fever of 102 degrees, or above, and headaches.
First Aid: Use ointments, as well as cool baths or compresses, for less severe cases. Do not break the blisters; if blisters do break, use a dry germ-free dressing. In severe cases, consult a physician. Drink plenty of water.
2. Heat Cramps
often are related to dehydration. Symptoms include: increased sweating with painful muscle spasms of the arms, legs, and occasionally, the abdomen.
First Aid: Remove the victim from the hot environment. Apply pressure on or gently massage the spastic muscles to relieve spasms.
exhaustion is the inability to sweat enough to cool yourself. Symptoms include: fatigue, weakness, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting, as well as cold, clammy, pale, red, or flushed skin. A marked body temperature rise will not occur.
First Aid: Remove the victim from the heat. Lay the victim down and loosen the clothing. Apply cold compresses and cool the body by fanning the victim or placing the victim in a cool environment. Consult a physician if vomiting continues.
occurs when the body stops sweating, but the body temperature continues to rise. Symptoms include: visual disturbances, headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and, as the condition progresses, delirium or unconsciousness. The skin will be hot, dry, red, or flushed, even under the armpits. This condition is a severe medical emergency that could be fatal.
First Aid: Consult a physician immediately or call 9-1-1.
Remove clothing and place victim in a cool environment, sponge the body with cool water, or place the victim in a cool bath. Continue the process until temperature decreases. DO NOT PROVIDE FLUIDS to an unconscious victim.
What you can do to prevent heat injuries
- Avoid the sun from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. when the burning rays are strongest.
- Reduce physical activity.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and light colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes when you are outdoors. This type of clothing reflects heat and sunlight, which helps you maintain a normal body temperature.
- Avoid sudden changes of temperatures (i.e., air out a hot car before getting into it).
- Avoid hot, heavy meals that include proteins. They increase your metabolism and water loss, and raise your body's natural way of cooling.
- Set your air conditioning thermostat between 75 and 80 degrees. If you do not have an air conditioner, take a cool bath or shower twice a day and visit air-conditioned public spaces during the hottest hours of the day.
- Drink plenty of fluids, even if you are not thirsty. Eight to 10 glasses of water a day are recommended. Drink even more if you are exercising or working in hot weather.
- Do not drink alcohol or caffeine, since they are diuretics (i.e., promote water loss).
- Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 if you need to go out in the sun.
During a heat wave, keep yourself cool at air-conditioned facilities, like public libraries, malls, or community centers, and check with your local Public Health Department for "cooling centers" in the community.