August 15, 2017
Living in high temperature areas creates many self-proclaimed "experts" about the heat index, dangerous temperatures and related illnesses, such as dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. But, some facts about the body's reaction to hot weather may surprise even the most "expert" people.
As the peak of South Florida and The Bahamas' treacherous summertime heat approaches, an expert on heat-related illness, Baptist Health Primary Care's Dr. Gabriel Solti-Grasz, said what you might think you know about the effects of high temperatures and humidity on the body may not be enough to prevent a dangerous health crisis.
"Heat stroke is the end of the story," says Dr. Solti-Grasz. "The beginning of the story is where we can prevent a grave situation from quickly evolving."
Dr. Solti-Grasz says preventing dehydration is key, and that the simple recipe for that is water.
"People often don't drink water or liquids until they begin to feel thirsty, but thirst is an indication that the process of dehydration has begun."
Dr. Solti-Grasz recommends drinking water before going out in the heat and continuing to drink water regularly for the duration of time spent outside. If exercising in the heat, he recommends drinking a sports drink with electrolytes to replenish nutrients such as salt and potassium that he said are lost quickly during exertion in high temperatures or high humidity. He said electrolytes help the body function properly, including regulating heart rate and maintaining a healthy body temperature.
He also points out that dehydration, and the subsequent progression to heat stroke, can occur when it's not necessarily hot, if you're not replenishing fluids regularly.
"When you start to feel symptoms, it's too late for prevention, you must switch to replenishment and recovery," he said.
Signs of dehydration
o Thirst: As soon as you feel thirsty, dehydration is underway.
o Reduced urination: If you don't have to urinate while in the heat, you need to drink more fluids.
o Headache: Once your head starts to hurt, you're likely entering the next phase of heat-related illness -- heat exhaustion.
With any of these signs, or a general sense of not feeling well while in the heat or during exertion, Dr. Solti-Grasz advises that you seek relief by going into an air-conditioned or shaded environment to cool the body down. He also recommends drinking water or a sports drink slowly to replenish lost fluids, while preventing nausea or vomiting.
Heat exhaustion, according to Dr. Solti-Grasz, is the middle category of heat-related illnesses and can quickly turn into heat stroke, if not treated.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion
o Headache: As a heat-related illness progresses, a headache may become more severe.
o Dizziness or lightheadedness: Shakiness and a feeling of instability or weakness often accompanies heat exhaustion.
o Nausea or vomiting: The body prepares for systemic shut down by purging contents in the stomach, including liquids, which can lead to a faster deterioration of health through further dehydration.
o Reduced urination: As your body tries to regulate your temperature, it begins to shut down organs, like your kidneys. This can lead to acute kidney injury.
o Fainting: This is the body's way of taking over to protect vital organs against loss of fluids.
With symptoms of heat exhaustion, Dr. Solti-Grasz advises seeking medical attention right away, including calling 911 or 919, so fluids can be given through an IV as soon as possible. He does not recommend drinking liquids at this stage, as fluids may enter the lungs through the trachea or airway.
Higher risk individuals
He said even Bahamians and South Floridians who have grown more accepting of the heat should understand that they run the risk of serious heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke, without taking protective measures.
Dr. Solti-Grasz said children and the elderly, as well as those individuals with cardiovascular or liver disease, are most susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
"For these groups, the process of dehydration occurs much faster, as the body's compensatory measures don't work as efficiently," he said, adding that these individuals should be closely monitored while in the heat and high humidity.
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