Well it’s not quite June 21st but with record highs across the country, summer is here. With that summer heat comes a whole slew of potential heat-related illnesses: hyponatremia, heat stroke and heat exhaustion, all of which are serious and can be life threating. As an EMT, I have treated all of these, and as a Marine I suffered most of these and have seen them all many, many times. I’m going to throw at you some signs and symptoms as well as some quick tips to avoid them.
Hyponatremia: everyone really knows about dehydration, but few people have ever really heard of hyponatremia. What is it exactly? Hyponatremia is a metabolic condition in which there is not enough sodium (salt) in the body fluids outside the cells. In simple terms, you drank so much water you have flushed your system of needed nutrients. This can happen when you consume large quantities of water without eating regularly and with no other food inbetween meals. Although it is more common in endurance athletes, everybody is at risk. A person suffering from this will appear intoxicated, woozy and stumbling and possibly even slurred speech and disorientation. If you believe that you or someone around you is suffering from this call 911. This is really dangerous, so sit them down in the shade and give nothing to drink. You can avoid this by eating regularly, salt food to taste, and I always had sunflower seeds as a snack. They’re high in sodium and will help prevent this from happening. Also try drinking a little Gatorade with your water.
Heat exhaustion: this happens when your body isn’t able to regulate temperature. We all have experienced this before. This is not good, but that serious however it can lead to more serious things. How it happens is your outside without taking brakes and without continually hydrating. Signs and symptoms include light headedness, cramps, cool clammy skin and just overall exhaustion. Treatment is get out of the sun, get inside, and hydrate. To avoid this, for every 30-45 minutes of work you do outside take a 10 minute break where you resupply what you have lost with water and a snack.
Heat Stroke: this is the most serious of heat injuries. Eventually you are baking yourself! In particularly your brain! Defined as a body temperature of greater than 40.6 °C (105.1 °F) due to environmental heat exposure with lack of thermoregulation. Your body sits naturally around 98.6, but when you’re dehydrated and have been working out in the sun your internal temp will raise sharply. Your body combats this by sweating which cools off your body. However if you have pushed yourself for a long duration of exercise, your body will not have sufficient fluids to sweat and your internal temp starts to rise. Signs and symptoms are hot, red and dry skin. It is also common for the person to become unconscious. The treatment for this is call 911, move to shade, remove all tight fitting clothing and douse with water. If you have ice available put in their arm pits, under their neck and in the groin region. You want to place it here because these are 4 places where the body can lose the most amount of heat as quickly as possible. I cannot stress the urgency of calling 911 with this one; brain damage can set in very quickly and is permanent. The elderly and young are particularly susceptible to this. Avoid sugary sodas and drink plenty of water before during and after exercise.
With summer comes many outdoor activities and a desire to get out and exercise. Take into consideration the dangers of heat and make sure to prevent them!