Tips for Identifying and Preventing Heat Exhaustion and Dehydration

Some say, “By the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.” Staying hydrated is very Heat Exhaustionimportant in the hot New Jersey summer months, especially if your body is trying to fight off an illness, if you’re engaging in physically activity, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

eMedical Urgent Care can help you understand and identify the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses, how to treat them and (most importantly) how to protect yourself and your child against the dangers of becoming dehydrated in the first place. So, grab your water bottle and read on to enjoy a hydrated and happy summer.

Dehydration

Signs of dehydration do in fact include the sensation of thirst and a dry mouth (cotton mouth) as well as dry skin, decreased or yellow urine, headaches and dizziness. Severe dehydration also can cause extreme thirst, fatigue, irritability and confusion. Since your body can lose fluids through sweat, urination, diarrhea or vomiting, it’s best to replenish before activity, at regular intervals during and continue drinking water after exercise.

Dehydration can be expressed as the loss of percentage of body weight. Scientists define dehydration as fluid losses greater than only one percent. Water is lost first from the blood, which is 90% water. (Dehydration can become fatal when 9-12% of your body weight is lost via fluids.) On the average, water makes up 60 to 70% of your body weight. Different cells contain different percentages of water, for example: muscle cells are 70 to 75% water whereas fat cells are only 10 to 15% water. Therefore, a muscular person will have a larger percentage of his or her body weight coming from water.

What is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a condition that generally includes intense sweating and an increased heart rate due to your body’s response to overheating. It is usually caused from a prolonged exposure to hot temperatures (especially when involved in physical activity and high levels of humidity).

Common symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Intense sweating
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness / fainting
  • Significant increase in heart rate
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Sudden headache

Other Heat-Related Illnesses

In addition to heat exhaustion, untreated dehydration can lead to two other heat-related illnesses including heat cramps and heat stroke. Heat cramps are the least aggressive of the three and include painful cramps of the abdominals, arms or legs. Heat stroke requires immediate care and includes severe symptoms such as 104 temperature or higher, nausea, vomiting, seizures, disorientation, lack of sweating, shortness of breath, unconsciousness and could even lead to a coma.

Don’t Let Your Body Fool You, Stay Hydrated!

It’s even easier to dehydrate during the hot summer months when sweat evaporates faster and losing large amounts of fluids might not be as noticeable. According to the old rule of thumb, drink eight glasses of water per day (some experts recommend even more), but you also can quench your thirst by consuming hydrating foods (all of which are at least 90% water by weight) including: cucumber, lettuce, celery, radishes, tomatoes, green peppers, cauliflower, watermelon, spinach, star fruit, strawberries, broccoli, grapefruit, carrots and cantaloupe.

Replenish Fluids and Electrolytes

Remember, anyone may become dehydrated, but young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses are most at risk. If you or a loved one experience any of the symptoms above, it is important to seek shade, rest and drink plenty of hydrating fluids. Extreme dehydration and heat stroke are medical emergencies that require immediate attention, possibly including a saline IV. Don’t ever hesitate to seek medical attention from the doctors at eMedical Urgent Care in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey (908) 464-6700, or Middletown, New Jersey (732) 957-0707.

Simple Summer Safety Tips

By Shilpa Amin-Shah, MD

Family safety is a priority regardless of the season, but the summer gives us more reason to emphasize simple measures to keep out of harm’s way.

  • Pool SafetBoy swimming in pooly: Be sure to swim only where there are lifeguards or adult supervision. Always use life jackets during water activities and when near open bodies of water such as the oceans, rivers and lakes. Never leave your children unattended around water. Maintain barriers such as fences and locks to keep children away from unattended pool areas.
  • Food Safety: Summertime is often associated with outdoor barbeques and picnics. Mayonnaise, milk, eggs, meat, poultry and seafood should not be kept at room temperature for more than an hour or two (one hour max if it’s hotter than 90 degrees outside). Be sure to thoroughly wash all raw fruits and vegetables. If you are traveling with food, be sure use plenty of ice packs and ice to keep food cool.
  • Bug Safety: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend an insect repellent that contains 10 to 30 percent DEET for children two months old or older. The DEET percentage represents how long it’s effective: 10 percent will provide protection up to two hours while 30 percent will cover you up to five hours. Do not apply DEET to face or hands. DEET is effective in preventing insect-related diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile Virus. For a greener approach to bug busting, organic mosquito repellents are available in most pharmacies.
  • Sun Safety: Make sure you apply sunscreen before leaving the house. The American Cancer Society recommends wearing SPF 15. Stay in the shade as much as possible during the sun’s peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Make sure to re-apply sunscreen every one to two hours when swimming or if excessively sweating. Wear protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Heat Safety: Limit time outdoors when the weather is extremely hot and humid. If you do not have air conditioning in your home, go to public places that do like shopping malls, libraries and grocery stores. Avoid hot, enclosed places, such as cars. Wear light-colored and light-weight clothing, and drink plenty of water before and during your time outdoors. Heat stress in children and adults can lead to serious health issues very quickly. The very young and the very old are at most risk for heat exhaustion because of their inability to handle high temperatures. If you are taking the kids to the playground, check the temperature of the playground equipment, as it can get very hot and could burn your child.

8 Signs of Heat Over-Exposure

  1. Rapid heartbeat
  2. Headache
  3. Fatigue
  4. Nausea and vomiting
  5. Excessive sweating (However, if heat stroke sets in, the body can no longer compensate and may stop sweating)
  6. Muscle cramps
  7. Dark-colored urine
  8. Fainting, confusion, dizziness or disorientation

6 Tips for Overcoming Heat Stroke

  1. Move the person out of the sun and into a cool area. An air-conditioned area is ideal, but moving someone into the shade will also help.
  2. Remove any heavy or tight clothing.
  3. Give the person cool water to drink.
  4. Mist the skin to help keep him or her cool.
  5. Apply ice to his or her neck or armpits.
  6. Immerse the body in cool water, either at a swimming pool or in a bathtub.

If these measures do not cool the person off in 30 minutes, call 9-1-1 and go to your nearest emergency room.

Shilpa Amin-Shah, MD, is a physician at eMedical Urgent Care in Berkeley Heights and an attending emergency physician at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. She received a bachelor’s degree from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pa., and her medical degree from SUNY Downstate, Brooklyn, N.Y. She completed the Jacobi/Montefiore Emergency Medicine Residency Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and served as chief resident. She enjoys spending her free time cooking, traveling and trying new cuisines with her husband and two young children.

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