Your Healthy Family: How to recognize signs of heat illness

Posted at 10:56 AM, Jul 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-09 12:56:46-04

Hot, humid temperatures might have some running for the nearest beach, but they are also a perfect recipe for heat-related illness.

According to Tom Waters, M.D., an emergency department physician at Cleveland Clinic, when it comes to the spectrum of heat illness, symptoms can vary from minor to life-threatening.

“Heat cramps usually start with cramping of large muscles, and if left to progress, can move on to heat exhaustion, which is when you start to get more systemically ill – you start to feel nauseous, have a headache and you might feel a little dizzy,” he said. “Heat stroke is when you’re in a full-blown life-threating illness where your temperature goes up, you have mental status changes, and you’re no longer able to respond to the heat stress.”

When it comes to heat illness, Dr. Waters said young children and the elderly are most susceptible to having difficulty with heat, because their bodies are not able to respond to heat stress as well as others.

Also, certain medications and medical conditions can impair a person’s ability to respond to heat-stress.

He said the best thing people can do to stay safe in the heat is to practice preparation, prevention and recognition.

It’s key to prepare for time spent in the heat by making plans to hydrate and scheduling frequent breaks out of the elements.

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to get a drink, by then, Dr. Waters said it’s already too late, because the body is showing signs of dehydration –it’s best to drink water frequently to avoid thirst.

And if you begin to recognize signs and symptoms of heat stress – don’t try to push through it – you need to act right away and remove yourself from the heat.

“Anytime you start to feel nauseous, a headache; and also if you notice a loved one has any type of change in mental status when they’re exposed to a heat stress, it’s very possible that they’re starting to have heatstroke and you need to take action right away by getting them to the nearest medical facility,” said Dr. Waters.

Dr. Waters said while we typically associate high temperatures combined with high humidity as the biggest factors in causing heat emergencies, it can actually happen at more comfortable temperatures too, so it’s important to always be prepared.