Risks, signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses

The second half of August, September, and pretty much all of October are the most brutally hot months of the year here in Puerto Vallarta. As the temperatures continue to rise, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

The main cause of a heat-related illness is your body’s inability to cool itself. Sweat is your body’s natural tool for cooling you down. If you over-exercise or work strenuously in hot weather or a heated room, your body may have difficulty producing enough sweat to keep you cool.

There are several types of heat illness. They range in severity, from heat cramps and heat exhaustion, which are common but not severe, to heatstroke, which can be deadly. Fortunately, most heat-related illnesses can be prevented or treated if you are aware of the risks, signs and symptoms.

Heat illness often starts with mild symptoms, such as heat edema, swelling of the hands and feet; heat rash, an area of small, itchy spots on the skin; and heat cramps, painful muscle contractions following exercise in the heat.

These can progress to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Knowing the signs and symptoms of these two conditions could save your life or that of a loved one.

Heat exhaustion is a warning that the body is getting too hot and is not usually serious if you can cool down within 30 minutes.

Signs of heat exhaustion include:
• a headache
• dizziness and confusion
• loss of appetite and feeling sick
• excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
• cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
• fast breathing or pulse
• temperature of 38C or above
• being very thirsty

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should:
• Move to a cool place and lie down
• Loosen your clothes
• Drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are OK.
• Put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath

With treatment, you can fully recover from heat exhaustion. Early intervention can stop it from progressing to heatstroke, also known as sunstroke, which is a medical emergency.

Heat stroke, the most serious of heat-related illnesses, occurs when the body suffers from long, intense exposure to heat and loses its ability to cool itself. In prolonged, extreme heat, the part of the brain that normally regulates body temperature malfunctions. There is a decrease in the body’s ability to sweat and, therefore, cool down. It can be fatal if not promptly and properly treated.

Signs of heat stroke include:
• Feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place and drinking plenty of water
• Not sweating even though too hot
• A temperature of 40C or above
• Fast breathing or shortness of breath
• Feeling confused
• Having a fit (seizure)
• Loss of consciousness
• Not responsive

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms you should:
• Call 911 immediately.
• Move to a cool place.
• Help lower body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath.
• Do not give the person anything to drink.

The risk of heat-related illness dramatically increases when the heat index climbs to 90 degrees or more. So it’s important – especially now that it is really starting to sizzle in Puerto Vallarta – to pay attention to the heat index, and also to remember that exposure to full sunshine can increase the reported heat index by 15 degrees.

To help prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke:
• Drink plenty of cold drinks, especially when exercising
• Take cool baths or showers
• Wear light-colored, loose clothing
• Sprinkle water over skin or clothes
• Avoid the sun between 11 am and 3 pm
• Avoid excess alcohol
• Avoid extreme exercise

Keep in mind that during the summer months here in Puerto Vallarta you can get heat exhaustion just by walking in the sun for five minutes, so stick to the shady side of the street when you’re out and about.

Source: Banderas News

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