"Heat Illness"

by Jerry T. Sun

Prevention, Symptoms and Treatments

The last article (Managing Heat) mentioned three ways to reduce heat (reduce external and internal heat, increase cooling). In spite of our best efforts to reduce heat, we may fall victim to heat illness. Heat illness is caused by the blood being diverted from our internal organs to our skin, by high internal temperatures and by the loss of electrolytes. The best prevention is to replace fluids frequently.

During strenuous activity it is possible to lose from one to one-and-a-half quarts of fluid per hour. To avoid heat sickness these fluids must be replaced. Water or any of the sports drinks are excellent for this. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommends drinking at least 5 - 7 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes (a 20-ounce bottle every 1 ½ hours) even if you do not feel thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty you have lost too much fluid. Avoid beverages with caffeine or alcohol as both are natural diuretics. If you take medications with either caffeine or alcohol in them check with your physician to see if there may be a substitute. Check with him also if you are on a low sodium diet, or have a heart condition. Other medications that may be a problem are blood pressure control, diuretics, or water pills. If in doubt talk with your doctor. Do not take salt pills without consulting with your doctor first. Normally we get enough sodium through the foods we eat, however loss of appetite due to hot weather may mean you are not getting enough salt in your diet.

The U.S Department of Health has defined five categories of heat illness. These are transient heat fatigue, heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

Transient Heat Fatigue symptoms are in the form of increased discomfort and reduced alertness. Taking a break in a cool area along with a cool drink will usually take care of this condition.

Heat rash occurs in hot and humid environments. When sweat is not removed from the skin by evaporation and the skin remains moist most of the time, the sweat ducts may become plugged, causing a skin rash to appear. Rest in a cool place and keep the skin cleansed and dried.

Heat cramps are very painful muscle spasms. These cramps may be in the arms, legs, or abdomen, but usually are found in the muscles that we were using the most. They usually occur in people who have drunk enough water but have not replaced enough of the salt that was lost due to sweating. Drinking large quantities of water also has the effect of diluting the body's fluids. Heat cramps may be relieved by taking salted liquids and resting in a cool place.

Heat exhaustion is a more serious form of heat illness. A person suffering from heat exhaustion will still be sweating, the skin will be clammy and moist, the body temperature will be normal or slightly above normal. Symptoms can include weakness or fatigue, dehydration (intense thirst), accompanied possibly by nausea, headaches and hyperventilation. The treatment for heat exhaustion is to rest in a cool place and drink lots of liquids.

Heatstroke (also called sunstroke) is a very serious condition and may result in death or permanent brain damage. This happens when the body's temperature regulator fails completely. The victim will usually have a temperature of 105 degrees or more, the skin will be hot and dry. Other symptoms may be headaches, dizziness, weakness, confusion, agitation. Seizures or loss of consciousness are also possible. If you suspect heatstroke call 911. While waiting for help to arrive move the person to a cool shady spot, loosen clothing, sponge or douse with cool (not cold!) water, elevate the feet, and fan with anything available.

Stay cool, stay safe and ENJOY the ride.