Summer fun is anticipated by every working person in America and around the world. Camping, hiking and having fun on the beach is a goal for myriads of people.
However, summer fun should not come at a price to one’s health. Heat injuries are easily avoidable.
The best treatment for heat injuries is preventing them from happening. Knowing what to do can mean the difference between life and death. As a former Paramedic, I have seen far too many heat injuries that were preventable. Not all of them ended tragically.
This is a radiation burn from the UV (Ultra Violet) rays of the sun. Proper sun block, limiting time in the sun and wearing proper clothing will prevent this from happening. Avoid being in direct sun during the hours when the UV rays are the most intense. Local weather stations will announce this for particular regions.
If avoidance isn’t possible, wear proper protective clothing including sunglasses rated to protect eyes from UV exposure. People with light colored eyes are more prone to develop cataracts, and those with fair skin are far more prone to burn or develop skin cancers. Evidence is now showing that children who suffer sunburns are at greater risk for skin cancers later in life.
Drinking at least 8 ounces of water each hour, depending on the climate will help the body to stay hydrated. More water may be needed if the area is humid.
Heat Cramps, Exhaustion and Stroke
When a person exercises, their temperature rises due to the muscles using energy. This is a very simple explanation. When the exercise is outside in the heat and humidity, the skin needs to cool down to keep the body from overheating. It does this by sweating.
The body doesn’t lose just water when sweating. Electrolytes (those chemicals that carry an electrical charge such as sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium) are lost as well. Muscles need these to keep working properly. The heart is one muscle that relies heavily on having the proper amount of electrolytes.
As these are lost, heat cramps can occur. They aren’t just painful, they’re excruciating. The person needs to be taken out of the heat as fast as possible. Small amounts of water, sips only should be given until the cramps subside. Sports drinks with electrolytes should be given as sips, with twice as much water. The person should stay out of the sun for the rest of the day. Sodas and/or beer will only make the situation far worse, as sugar and alcohol are diuretics – they take water out of the body’s cells.
If the body’s fluid loss is substantial, even if the person doesn’t seem to be sweating heavily, heat exhaustion can occur. The person may turn red, feel nauseous, lightheaded, dizzy and may faint. This person needs immediate attention. Get them out of the sun immediately. Fanning may help, but do not pour ice water on the person. That creates an opposite effect, which will be described shortly. If the person is unconscious and/or has stopped sweating, call 911 immediately. If they are conscious, only allow sips of water or sports drink. Let the person know what happened and advise them to seek medical attention.
For those who have stopped sweating, turn bright read and are unconscious time is of the essence. Heat stroke kills quickly. The body’s internal temperature is out of control and the person’s brain is literally cooking. They will die without help. Get them out of the sun and call 911 immediately. Loosen or remove heavy clothing and shoes. Cloths with tepid (room temperature) water can be applied to help cool the body. If the person is unconscious, do not try to give anything to drink- it will cause them to choke.
One old remedy was to cover heat injury victims in ice or use ice water to bring their temperature down. This will kill someone. What it does is force the body to go from one extreme temperature to another. When faced with sudden extreme cold, the body goes into a protective “freeze avoidance” mode- shivering. Shivering stimulates the muscles to use energy and create heat- something the body has too much of already. The shivering continues even after the ice is taken away, and the person’s temperature will climb higher than it was when the heat injury happened. This is called the rebound effect. It should go the way of putting butter on burns and spider webs on cuts- out the window.
It’s easy to enjoy the summer sun without incurring medical or hospital bills. Using common sense, proper clothing, limiting UV exposure and sunblocks as well as staying properly hydrated will all work together for safe summer fun.
This article is not meant for the diagnosis of any medical condition nor advocate or prescribe any specific medication or treatment. Always seed the advice of a licensed physician for the proper diagnosis or treatment of any disease or condition.
Source: The Author of this article has had extensive training in the prevention, recognition and care of heat injuries as a EMT-Paramedic, State of Texas.