As temperatures reach record-breaking highs in 14 different states, it's more important now than ever to recognize the signs of heat-related syndromes and learn preventative measures. Extreme heat warnings have been posted across the United States. Temperatures feel well over 100 degrees in many states. There have already been six heat-related deaths caused by this heatwave.
There are three heat-related syndromes; heat cramps (mildest), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (most severe).
Heat exhaustion is caused by exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with strenuous physical activity and high humidity. If heat exhaustion is left untreated it can progress to a heat stroke, which is life-threatening. Luckily, there are many things you can to do prevent heat exhaustion in the first place.
Dr. Narula told CBS News that with these extreme heat conditions, our body's protective control system can become overwhelmed. "So heat stroke is when your core temperature is 104 or higher and you start to have central nervous system dysfunction. At those higher temperatures, basically, your cells start to break down, your gut becomes leaky. You risk muscle damage, kidney, liver, brain damage and even heart damage," Dr. Narula said.
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Everyone should be on the lookout for people suffering from symptoms that signal heat-related illnesses. "And this is a real medical emergency so if you see someone suffering, call 911 and start to cool them by any mechanism you can. Get them into a cool bath, put cool sponges or cool blankets on them, really try to get their temperature down to 101 or 102," said Dr. Narula.
Heat Cramp Warning Signs
Heat Exhaustion Warning Signs
Heat Stroke Warning Signs
If you think that you're experiencing heat exhaustion, stop all activity, rest, move to a cooler place, and drink cool water. If your symptoms worsen or don't improve within one hour, seek medical help.
If you're with someone who you think is experiencing heat exhaustion and they become confused, agitated, lose consciousness, or is unable to drink, seek immediate medical attention. One will need immediate cooling and urgent care if their core body temperature reaches 104 degrees or higher.
Mayo Clinic suggests the following ways to help prevent heat exhaustion.
- Wear light and loose-fitting clothing - Wearing too much clothing or too heavy clothing can prevent your body from cooling properly.
- Protect against sunburn - If you know you'll be outside for an extended amount of time, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen every two hours or more often if you're sweating or swimming. Sunburn affects the body's ability to cool itself.
- Stay hydrated - Drinking plenty of water should help your body sweat which will help you maintain a normal temperature.
- Be cautious of your medications - You'll need to take extra precautions if you take medication that may affect the body's ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.
- Avoid being outside during the hottest time of the day - If possible, schedule outdoor activities, such as workouts or physical labor, for the morning or evening.
- Acclimate yourself to the weather - Condition yourself to the heat before working or spending a lot of time outside. Those who are not used to the heat are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
- Be cautious if you're at increased risk - Certain conditions can increase your risk of heat exhaustion, like a history of heat illness. If you start experiencing symptoms, act quickly to avoid overheating. If you're involved in strenuous activity outside, such as sports, make sure there are medical services available just in case there is a heat emergency.