Kurtis R Holt, MD

July 17th, 2014

During the Portugal/United States soccer game, the World Cup referee requested the first-ever water break. The break is a reminder that everyone, even professional athletes, must take extra precautions when playing in the heat. Each summer as temperatures climb, emergency rooms see an increase in heat stroke and other heat-related medical illnesses.

Although outside temperatures increase the risk of a heat related conditions, the biggest issue is not outside temperature, but internal regulation of body temperature. Under normal circumstances, a body is able to dissipate heat through the skin by way of sweat and evaporation. However, in extreme heat, vigorous physical exertion and/or dehydration may affect the body’s ability to regulate internal temperature. Heatstroke, a potentially life threatening condition, occurs when the body’s normal mechanisms for dealing with heat stress become inadequate. When the core body temperature rises above 104 degrees, it puts stress on vital organs.

Prevention. To help prevent a heat related illness it is important to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeine (including tea and soft drinks), which can lead to dehydration, when engaging in physical exercise in hot, humid weather. Take frequent breaks in shady areas and wear loose, lightweight clothing.

Signs. There are four heat illnesses: heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
A heat rash often appears as a cluster of small, red blisters.

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms in the arms, legs and abdomen. With heat cramps, the body temperature hovers around normal, the skin may feel moist and cool, but sweaty. If the body is not cooled when heat cramps begin, the body may have reached its threshold for regulating body temperature.

Once the body’s ability to regulate temperature has reached a threshold, signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke may be seen. Signs include heavy or profuse sweating or may be marked by an absence of sweat, hallucinations, throbbing headache, high body temperature, pale or flushed complexion, slurred speech, confusion, dizziness, muscle cramps and nausea. Individuals suffering a heat stroke may experience changes in mental status ranging from personality changes to confusion and coma.

First Aid. When signs of a stroke are present, the clock is ticking and minutes count. First, concentrate on cooling down the victim. Move them to a cooler environment – out of the sun and into a shady or air-conditioned space. Cool the body by spraying or sponging with cool water and fan the person to help dissipate heat and encourage evaporation. If conscious and able, have the person drink cool water. Call 911 for transport to a nearby medical facility.

Emergency rooms report more traffic in May through August, when children and families are outside running, kicking, riding and swimming. While we wish your family a healthy summer, if you or a loved one needs medical attention, our highly trained and well-staffed department complete with air transport resources, is ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle your minor and major medical needs.

Emergency Medical Services

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