Heat-related illness can be serious but is avoidable

Heat related illness can be serious

Even if you think you’re getting used to the sweltering weather, you need to watch out for signs of heat-related illness.

Forms of heat-related illness include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, says Tammy Roberts, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

Heat cramps usually occur as a result of heavy sweating, sometimes several hours after a person has been out of the heat, Roberts said. The cramps can be very painful and usually affect the arms, legs or abdomen.

“To help prevent heat cramps, drink a fluid that has electrolytes during and after long periods of heavy sweating,” she said.

Heat exhaustion happens when the body loses the ability to cool itself. This can occur when a person has been sweating heavily and not replacing fluids and electrolytes. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include a headache, dizziness, loss of coordination, impaired judgment, anxiety, clammy skin and a weak, rapid pulse. Someone with these symptoms needs to be cooled down and slowly drink fluids. Have them checked by a doctor.

Heatstroke, the most serious heat-related illness, is life-threatening. It occurs when the body has lost too much water and salt. That loss, along with the body’s inability to cool itself, makes body heat rise to dangerous levels. Symptoms of heat stroke include a high body temperature with no sweating, any of the above symptoms of heat exhaustion, nausea and vomiting, seizures, difficulty breathing, and high blood pressure. If you suspect someone has heat stroke, call 911 and try to cool the person as quickly as possible.

Anyone can suffer from a heat-related illness, but the people at greatest risk are infants and young children, senior citizens, people who are obese, and those who are already physically ill.

Roberts urges people to drink plenty of fluids during times of extreme heat. “Water is a great choice. Fluids with electrolytes are recommended for long periods of heavy sweating.”

Digesting food actually creates heat in your body, so if the heat is bothering you, Roberts suggests eating smaller but more frequent meals.

Heat-related illness can be very serious but is avoidable. “Remember, shade and water are your friends,” she said.