ER physician offers tips on staying safe in heat

Published 1:00 am Friday, July 8, 2016

The summer season is in full swing, and that means camps, outdoor workouts and athletic practices, trips to parks or local waterways, and dozens of other fun outdoor activities for you and your family. It also means you need to watch out for one of Mother Nature’s most dangerous elements: HEAT.

“Summer is such a fun time of year, but it is also dangerous because people can quickly become overheated,” said Dr. Mark Griffin, Emergency Medicine physician at Andalusia Health. “We really encourage our patients to know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. If people know what to watch for, they can catch potential problems earlier and start cooling the body down before any serious complications occur.”

As noted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), muscle cramping – or heat cramps – is often the first sign of heat-related illness and may lead to a more serious condition, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Below are other important signs and symptoms, actions to take if you or someone you encounter is experiencing a heat-related illness, and tips to help you beat the heat.


Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses an excessive amount of water and salt and is unable to cool itself. If left untreated, heat exhaustion could lead to heat stroke, which is why it is important to know the signs and symptoms. They are:

• Headache • Nausea

• Dizziness

• Weakness

• Irritability

• Thirst

• Heavy sweating

• Elevated body temperatures

• Decreased urine output


Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most severe heat-related illness, requiring immediate medical attention. Heat stroke occurs when the body has lost excessive water and salt, and has become overwhelmed by the heat. Signs and symptoms include:

• Confusion, altered mental status or slurred speech

• Loss of consciousness

• Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating

• Seizures

• Very high body temperatures

Heat stroke can be fatal if treatment is delayed. If you or someone you encounter is experiencing a heat-induced illness, you should:

• Call 9-1-1 immediately.

• Stay with the person until emergency medical services arrive.

• Move the person to a shaded, cool area and remove any heavy or excess clothing.

• Cool the person down quickly with cold water or an ice bath, or by placing cold wet cloths or ice on the head, neck, armpits or groin.

• Circulate the air around the person to speed cooling.

Dr. Griffin said people can be smart during outdoor activities by drinking plenty of water, seeking shade and taking regular breaks during rigorous exercise. Furthermore, outdoor activities can be limited to mornings and afternoons, when the sun isn’t out in full force. He also says knowing the aforementioned signs and symptoms is critical.

“The best way to prevent heat-related illness is to know when to stop,” Dr. Griffin said. “Often people start to feel mild symptoms but think they can just ‘push through’ the pain. It’s important for people to listen to their bodies and always pay attention to those around them, especially coaches, athletic trainers and others who lead group activities.”