By Shawn Whittington, Senior Instructor
As an EMS worker and instructor at both indoor and outdoor training facilities, I have seen countless cases of heat emergencies. When the temperature outside starts to soar, keep a few things in mind while doing yard work, exercise or other outdoor activities to avoid becoming a casualty of the extreme summer.
How to Avoid Being a Casualty of the Summer Heat
Stay hydrated before and during outdoor activities. Drink two cups of fluid two hours before heading outside, and try to drink one cup of fluid every 20 minutes during outdoor activities. Supplement your water intake with a sports drink if you are outside for more than an hour. Sports drinks provide carbohydrates for energy and minerals to replace electrolytes lost in your sweat. Covering your head and neck can make a noticeable difference in how you feel in the heat. Wear a hat and lay a towel or bandana across the back of your neck.
There are three levels of heat emergencies:
- Heat Cramps
- Heat Exhaustion
- Heat Stroke
Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you or someone around you.
Painful, involuntary muscle spasms. Muscles most often affected include calves, arms, the abdominal wall and back. If you experience heat cramps, rest and cool down. Drink clear juice or a sports drink. Stretching and gently massaging the affected muscles will help.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion resemble those of shock and may include dizziness, nausea, heavy sweating, rapid heartbeat, cool or pale skin, heat cramps, headache and fatigue. If you suspect heat exhaustion, get the person to a shady or air conditioned location right away. Lay the person down and remove excess clothing. Have them drink water or a sports drink and actively cool them by spraying or sponging them with water. Monitor carefully and call 911 if the person’s condition gets worse.
Heat stroke occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, emergency treatment is required. Heat stroke symptoms include lack of sweating, nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate, headache, confusion and even unconsciousness. If you think a person may be experiencing heat stroke, call 911 and take immediate action to cool the person. Move them to a shaded location or indoors and remove excess clothing. Place ice packs or cold, wet towels on the person’s head, neck, armpits and groin and mist the person with water.
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