By Kathy Hubbard
Rosie was white as a ghost and was making absolutely no sense. Her friends thought she’d had maybe one or possibly two too many margaritas and weren’t paying much attention to her, even after she started vomiting. After all she did eat a couple of those cheap hot dogs. Then she went into convulsions and they suddenly realized that she was in trouble. Big trouble.
Yes, we’ve heard a lot about how there have been close to 8,000 deaths from heat-related illnesses in the U.S. in the last ten years. Yes, we’ve been inundated by the media about this unseasonal, record-breaking heat wave. Yes, they’ve given lots of advice about how to stay cool. But, I just can’t resist putting in my two cents worth.
The Centers for Disease Control defines extreme heat as “summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year.” Sound like us? You betcha.
People begin to have problems when the body struggles to cool itself down. A healthy core temperature ranges between 98 and 100 degrees. Maintaining that precise core temperature is called homeostasis.
Medical News Today explains, “A part of the brain known as the hypothalamus is responsible for controlling the way in which the body regulates its temperature. If the body’s core internal temperature starts to get too low or too high, then it can send signals to glands, muscles, nerves and organs activating mechanisms to adjust the body temperature.”
Normally we cool ourselves by sweating. “Liquid containing salt is released from the sweat glands, and when this sweat evaporates from the body, the body cools down. However, on some occasions, sweating is not enough,” states MNT.
High humidity, for example, can inhibit sweating. Fortunately, we rarely have that problem here, but what you may have is another factor or perhaps several factors that can limit how well your body regulates your temperature.
One of these factors may be your age. For reasons that are still being studied, men and women over the age of 45 can suffer “more physiological strain during heat acclimation than younger individuals,” so says the National Institute of Health. On the other end of the spectrum children under four should be sheltered from the heat.
Other issues include being overweight or obese; having heart disease, mental illness affecting judgment, medical conditions that limit activity or restrain blood flow, a sunburn; using certain medications and alcohol.
Several medications can inhibit sweating or alter the balance of fluids in your body (think diuretics). Always ask your medical practitioner or pharmacist if a drug you are taking increases your sensitivity to sunlight or reduces your ability to perspire.
“When the body is struggling or unable to regulate temperature properly a number of different illnesses can occur. These vary in severity from heat rash, a common problem, to heat stroke, a medical emergency that can kill,” MNT says.
The condensed version of what to do during a heat wave is to drink plenty of water before you get thirsty. Exercise in the early morning or late evening. Wear appropriate clothing. Wear sunscreen; do not let your skin burn. Avoid large hot meals. Don’t use your oven. Take a cool shower. And, avoid alcohol. You know all that.
So, what I really want to tell you is to look out for others. “Some of the people who are most at risk from heat-related illnesses are vulnerable individuals who depend on others for care. Be sure to look out for young children, people older than 65, people with chronic and mental disorders and pets during times of extreme heat,” advises MNT.
“If working or exercising in hot environments, be sure to monitor the condition of your colleagues and teammates and have them do the same for you. Some heat-induced illnesses can lead to confusion and visible symptoms that others may be better placed to identify.”
Rosie was fortunate. Her friends had the wherewithal to call 911. She was taken to the hospital where she was treated and released. The ER is open, but we would prefer you enjoyed your 4th of July festivities.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.