June 25, 2012
SPRINGFIELD We wait all winter for it to return. And, when it finally does, it isn't long before we start complaining about it.
It's the warmth of the sun. But, when the heat becomes excessive, it's the top weather-related killer in the United States.
"As with many illnesses, the best defense is prevention," Dr. Joseph Schmidt, emergency department, Baystate Medical Center, said.
"Those at greatest risk for developing a heat-related illness are children under five years of age and people 65 years of age and older, who have the least ability to regulate their body temperatures," he added.
People who are overweight and others with chronic illnesses such as heart disease or high blood pressure, as well as those who are on certain medications, are also at high risk.
Schmidt suggests the following important hot weather tips to keep you safe and healthy this summer:
Sweating is the body's natural defense to cooling itself. However, when humidity is high, sweat does not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly and resulting in a rapid rise of body temperature.
Schmidt said the warning signs of an oncoming heat-related illness could include excessive sweating, leg cramps, flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, headache and rapid pulse. If these symptoms occur, he suggests getting out of the heat and drinking liquids. If you don't feel better soon, call your doctor or visit your local emergency department, noted Schmidt.
"Heat stroke, which can cause death or permanent disability, is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate emergency medical treatment," Schmidt said about the serious condition which can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs.
Warning signs of heat stroke can vary, but may include the following: body temperature of 103º F or higher; a rapid, strong pulse; dizziness; throbbing headache; nausea; confusion; and in extremely critical cases, unconsciousness.
Less serious are heat rashes which are caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. While more common in young children, heat rashes can affect anyone. The rash, which appears like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters, is most often found on the neck, upper chest, in the groin area, under the breasts, and in elbow creases. Treatment involves providing a cooler, less humid environment, keeping the skin dry, as well as the use of powder to increase comfort.
"In addition to taking care of yourself from the ill-effects of the heat, don't forget to check on elderly relatives and neighbors several times a day to make sure they are safe and free from any signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke," said Schmidt, who is also an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine for Tufts University School of Medicine. Baystate Medical Center, as the Western Campus of Tufts University School of Medicine, offers a residency in Emergency Medicine.
Schmidt also reminded parents and caregivers that hot weather and vehicles can be a deadly combination for kids, resulting in a record number of deaths in 2010.
"Children are at serious risk for heat stroke when left alone even for a few minutes in a closed vehicle or even in one with the window left slightly open," he said.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.
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