South Florida has been experiencing record-high temperatures this season, which can bring dangerous health impacts. The two most serious are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Your primary care doctors and specialists at The Medical Group of South Florida always encourage our patients to exercise, because that’s one of the best ways to stay healthy. But it’s important to watch for signs that exertion on hot days may be leading to life-threating heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Most people have heard these terms, but may not fully understand what they mean. We want to explain the differences between the two, because the treatments for each are different.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says muscle cramping might be the first sign of heat-related illness. It lists the warning signs of heat exhaustion as:
- heavy sweating
- cold, pale, clammy skin
- fast, weak pulse
- nausea or vomiting
If you or someone you’re with experiences these symptoms, you should move to a cooler location, lie down and loosen your clothing, apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible, and sip water. If you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.
The signs of heat stroke are:
- high body temperature (above 103 degrees)
- hot, red, dry, or moist skin
- rapid and strong pulse
- possible unconsciousness
This is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately. While waiting for the ambulance, move the person to a cooler environment, and try to reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths, or if possible, a cool bath. Do NOT try to give fluids.
It’s important to know that some people are more susceptible to negative effects from the heat. These include people aged 65 and older, who are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature; people with chronic medical conditions, who may be taking medication that can worsen the impact of extreme heat; infants and young children; and, outdoor workers and athletes, who may be more likely to become dehydrated, particularly in extreme heat.
Following are steps you can take to avoid experiencing either of these serious conditions.
Limit outdoor activity. The sun is hottest from 11 a.m. (D.S.T.) to 3 p.m., so try to stay indoors, or at least in shaded areas, during those times. If you must be outdoors, take frequent breaks, preferably in air conditioned environments, and, if possible, take cool showers or baths to cool down.
Dress appropriately. Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Wear a hat with wide brim.
Drink water frequently, from two to four cups of water every hour. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink, because by then you’re already started to dehydrate. Monitor urine color: If your urine is dark, you’re not drinking enough water. Urine should be light yellow or clear. And avoid alcoholic drinks, which can not only impair judgment regarding time spent in the heat, but also dehydrate you.
Summer is a wonderful time of year, and we in South Florida are fortunate to experience more of our share of it than most of the country. But there are downsides as well, and heat stroke and heat exhaustion are two of them. Enjoy the season, but do so with awareness, and—as always—contact your primary care physicians and specialists at The Medical Group of South Florida with any questions or concerns you may have.