Tag Archives: dehydration

Summer!

August 11, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The symptoms of heat exhaustion can develop swiftly and suddenly. If you are age 60 or older, not only does your risk for developing heat exhaustion intensify, but the symptoms can develop more rapidly and become more serious.

“Older people are especially prone to heat exhaustion because their bodies don’t adjust to heat as well,” says Dr. Mark Ptacek, a family practitioner at Nebraska Medicine. “Chronic medical conditions, as well as certain types of medications, can impair your ability to regulate your body temperature and perspire.”

HealthHeat exhaustion results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures, usually in combination with dehydration. The risk for heat exhaustion increases when the heat index—a combination of the temperature and humidity—rises to 90 degrees. A relative humidity of 60 percent or more hampers sweat evaporation, which hinders the body’s ability to cool itself, says Dr. Ptacek.

Heat exhaustion causes the skin to feel hot and moist, and to appear flushed. Other possible symptoms include heavy sweating, faintness, weakness, rapid pulse, low blood pressure, nausea, low-grade fever, headache, and dark urine. “If you are no longer sweating, your condition has grown more severe,” notes Dr. Ptacek.

If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of heat exhaustion, Dr. Ptacek recommends going to a cool place, sitting in front of a fan, removing extra clothing, rehydrating with cool water (iced or cold water can cause cramping), spraying or sponging with cool water, resting for two to three hours, and staying out of excessive heat for about a week. If you are nauseated, throwing up, or are very dizzy or light-headed, you should be taken to an emergency room, he says.

Dr. Ptacek recommends these tips to keep yourself well-hydrated during the summer:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. “We are a quart low on water when we wake up in the morning, so start your day with two glasses of water. Continue to drink lots of fluids throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. As you get older, you begin to lose your sense of thirst, and therefore you may already be at a fluid deficit.”
  • Drink before you feel thirsty. When your body begins expressing thirst, this means you are starting to get behind your body’s fluid needs.
  • If you are exercising and perspiring a lot, drink fluids with extra electrolytes such as sports drinks.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, which acts as a diuretic, causing your body to lose fluids and desensitizes your body’s needs for water.
  • Avoid caffeine, which decreases your body’s blood volume and also acts as a diuretic, making you more dehydrated.
  • Exercise in the early morning or late evening.
  • Avoid sugary drinks, which can cause your body to lose more fluid.
  • Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.

Sixty-Plus

Watch Out for Heat Stroke

June 20, 2013 by

Most people—especially those of us who know how muggy and hot Nebraska summers can be—have suffered from heat exhaustion at least once. It usually hits us after we’ve spent too much time outdoors in the blazing sun and haven’t been drinking enough fluids to keep us properly hydrated.

Heat exhaustion is pretty easy to recognize. Muscles cramp up, fatigue sets in, and sometimes lightheadedness or fainting can occur. But never write off heat exhaustion as “not that big of a deal” because it can be a precursor to a more serious heat injury called heat stroke.

Robert Muelleman, M.D., Chair of Emergency Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UNMC, explains that heat stroke usually causes alteration or damage to a person’s mental state. “It could be as mild as confusion or as severe as seizures,” he says. “Heat stroke damages a lot of different organs—brain, heart, liver, kidneys. That’s why it can be so deadly.”

Dr. Muelleman categorizes heat stroke into two types: classic heat stroke and exertion heat stroke. “Classic heat stroke is the one you read about during a heat wave in the summer. It typically affects elderly people with chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, or emphysema. The issue there isn’t necessarily the daytime highs but rather the nighttime lows. If the temperature doesn’t drop below 80° for 72 hours, that’s when we’ll see classic heat stroke. The body doesn’t have a chance to cool down.”

“Heat stroke damages a lot of different organs—brain, heart, liver, kidneys. That’s why it can be so deadly.” – Robert Muelleman, M.D., UNMC

Exertion heat stroke, however, can happen to anybody, and it doesn’t even have to be that hot outside. It’s more about the heat index, explains Dr. Muelleman. “Heat index takes into account the humidity. If the heat index rises above 105°, then everyone is at risk. If it rises above 115°, then athletic and outdoor events really should be canceled.” With exertion heat stroke, it’s a matter of whether or not your body is unable to dissipate the heat or is generating too much heat.

When the body’s temperature control is overwhelmed, it can’t effectively cool down the body. Sweating is the normal response to overheating, but several factors can inhibit the body’s ability to cool itself—things like high humidity, obesity, fever, mental illness, poor circulation, heart disease, sunburn, and prescription drug or alcohol use.

Healthy children and adults are susceptible to heat stroke exertion in the summer because working in the heat or participating in summer sports can put them at risk. Babies, too—especially those left in cars when it’s hot. “Car temperatures rise so fast,” Dr. Muelleman says. “It’s extremely dangerous to leave a baby in the car during the summer.”

As for the symptoms of heat stroke, the Mayo Clinic recognizes the following:

  • High body temperature—usually 104°F (40°C) or higher
  • Lack of sweat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Racing heart rate
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Muscle cramps or weakness

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, immediately call 911 or transport them to the hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal. While waiting for aid, move the person to an air-conditioned environment and attempt to cool them down by removing unnecessary clothing, fanning air over them, wetting skin with cool water from a cloth or sponge, or applying ice packs.

Feeling the Heat

Everyone loves a little fun in the sun, but when people linger in the sun’s rays a little too long, it can have harmful effects on their health, especially for seniors.

Heat-related illnesses, collectively known as hyperthermia, occur when the body overheats and does not have the sufficient means to cool itself down. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the elderly are more prone to the sun’s harmful rays because they are more likely to have a chronic medical condition or take medication that inhibits normal body responses to heat.

“People who work in high heat develop a certain degree of tolerance. With the elderly, their ability to adapt to extreme temperatures is limited, and the body’s ability to maintain status quo is much more at risk,” says Kris Stapp, vice president of community and public health at Omaha’s Visiting Nurse Association.

Heat exhaustion is a mild form of heat stress. Continuous exposure to high temperatures, combined with high humidity and physical exertion, can lead to dehydration. If you develop heavy sweating, a pale complexion, muscle cramps, and a sense of tiredness, you may be suffering from heat exhaustion. If not controlled, heat exhaustion can escalate to heat stroke, which can cause permanent brain and organ damage.

Stapp stresses the importance of taking into account the timing of outdoor activities, especially strenuous ones such as gardening or walking. Older folks may need to adapt their outdoor plans in times of extreme heat.

“What is dangerous about any heat-related illness is, it comes on so subtly that people don’t realize it’s happening until the symptoms really set in,” Stapp says. “When people get to the point where they are confused, it can lead to unconsciousness.”

To combat heat stress, the CDC advises drinking plenty of non-alcoholic beverages. Make sure to get plenty of rest and try to stay in air-conditioned environments during the heat of the day. Also, make sure to wear lightweight clothing if venturing outdoors.

“Be smart,” Stapp says. “It’s about turning all this information around, and not only knowing the warning signs, but also how to prevent it from happening.”