Summer is in full swing in North America with temperatures in Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley creeping into the 30’s. Add in the humidity and we are pushing past the ‘comfortable’ zone for many folks. While summer is a great time to be outside and get active we do have to be cautious that we don’t push our bodies past the point that they can keep us cool. Here are a few things to watch for to ensure we don’t end up suffering from heat cramps, heat exhaustion or, worst of all, heat stroke.
Prevention is key!
The best way to deal with heat related emergencies is to not get them in the first place (obvious I know). Be sure to wear proper clothing that allows good airflow to your skin, stay hydrated with water (or electrolyte drinks if you are sweating lots) keep physical activity within a comfortable range for you, and, if you notice any signs or symptoms of heat-related issues, GET OUT OF THE HEAT! Listen to your body and respect what it’s telling you.
What to look for
In the beginning stages of heat emergencies you might start to have muscle cramping, you are still sweating but generally feeling unwell. If not dealt with things will get worse. Headaches, nausea, and vomiting are huge red flags that you need to cool down. When things are really bad, sweating stops and usually heat stroke sufferers will have red, hot, dry skin. Irritable, bizarre behaviour. Rapid, shallow breathing. Seizures. If things get to this point you need to call EMS/911 and cool them down NOW! This can be fatal.
Deal with it Early
If we recognize the signs and symptoms early we can deal with them. We need to stop them from getting warmer and cool them down. Get them inside or in the shade and have them rest and drink fluids like water or electrolyte drinks. A cool cloth or cold pack on the back of the neck, inside the armpits or groin area or, if there is water nearby, a quick dip will cool them down. If you can’t cool them down in the early stages then consider it a life-threatening condition and they need to be cooled as quickly as you can (and EMS/911 needs to be called!). Even if you manage to cool them down and they ‘seem’ okay they need medical treatment. Our bodies don’t like a raise in core temperature and damage to organs may have occurred.
Keep in mind heat related emergencies can progress frighteningly quickly and it does’t have to be extreme temperatures outside either. A huge jump in temperature, medications, age (usually younger folks and older folks) and medical conditions all affect how well we adjust to the environment. So be a good friend and be on the lookout for any signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke and take the right action to give the best chance for the desired outcome.