Surviving summer heat

There are many wonderful things about summer in the Upstate—events in all the downtowns, days spent at the lake, and time spent outside with friends and family. As temperatures rise, it is important to remember that heat can cause serious illness and even death in some extreme cases. Below are some common heat-related illnesses and what to look for:

Heat cramps—This condition is very common and can affect anyone. Symptoms include muscle spasms, most commonly in the legs and abdomen. If you begin to experience these symptoms, it is important to move to a cool place and drink fluids.

Heat exhaustion—This occurs with exposure to high temperatures, often with inadequate fluid intake. It is common with exertion in the heat, but the elderly and people with medical problems such as heart disease are also at high risk. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, severe fatigue and headache. If you have any of these symptoms, move to a cool place and drink fluids. If your symptoms do not resolve in an hour or if you have other medical problems, seek medical attention.

Heat stroke—This is the most severe heat-related illness and occurs when the body loses its ability to regulate temperature. Symptoms include rapid breathing, a faint but fast pulse, confusion or even coma. This is a true medical emergency. If you suspect you or someone you are with has heat stroke, move to a cool place and call 911.

Although it is important to know the signs of heat-related illness, the best way to stay healthy this summer is to avoid developing these symptoms. Below are some safety tips for summer:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. During activity, try to drink 2-4 glasses of fluid every hour. Water and sports drinks are both excellent for hydration.
  • Avoid extreme heat. If you need to work or exercise outside, try to schedule it in the morning or evening, avoiding the most extreme heat of the day.
  • If you don’t have air conditioning, try to go to a cool place (such as a mall or library) during the middle of the day. Being in an air-conditioned space for a few hours can reduce your risk of heat-related illness.
  • Regularly check on neighbors, friends, and relatives who are ill or have limited mobility. They may be at high risk for heat-related illness.
  • If you are in the heat, use the buddy system so you can keep an eye on each other.
  • Wear sunscreen. Your body is less able to regulate temperature when you have a sunburn.

For more information about staying safe in hot weather, see this great resource from the CDC. For guidelines on when to seek emergency care and when an alternative will suffice, click here.

Elizabeth Page Bridges, MD, is an emergency medicine physician with Greenville Health System.

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