As the mercury climbs as we head into summer, I thought it appropriate to discuss heat-related illness for this edition of the Sheriff’s Message. In South Florida, we enjoy tropical weather year-round, but during the summer months, heat can cause serious health issues especially for the very young and the not-so-very young, too. Across the United States, many people die from heat-related illnesses, and many more are hospitalized with life-threatening conditions. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are two heat-related illnesses that are both emergencies. The good news is that heat-related illness can be prevented. Practicing a few simple tips can help keep you cool and healthy during the hot spells. But first, let’s explore the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion with a little consultation from our Emergency Medical Services Division at Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and not taking in enough fluids. The warning signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headache, tiredness or weakness, paleness, excessive sweating, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting. Heat stroke is a more serious condition and can be deadly. The body’s cooling mechanism shuts down and body temperature can rise rapidly - to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Some warning signs of heat stroke are nausea, dizziness, confusion, high temperature (over 103 degrees), throbbing headache, rapid pulse and red, hot and dry skin. If someone is exhibiting signs of heat stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue and other South Florida EMS providers are well-trained to treat heat-related calls. Remove the victim from the heat and get him to air conditioning if possible, or to a shaded area. Cool them off with a garden hose, bottles of water or a bucket. If the victim can move, place him in a bathtub or shower with cool water running. If the victim is conscious, provide him with cold non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages such as water, juice or sports drinks. If the victim is unconscious, don’t give him anything by mouth.
Prevention is key in avoiding heat-related illness. Monitor the heat index and avoid going out in the heat as much as possible. Being in direct sunlight can increase the heat index by up to 15 degrees. Keep your home cool. For seniors, during extreme heat set your thermostat to 78º or cooler. Fans help circulate the cool air but do nothing to circulate hot air. If you feel warm, take a cool bath or shower. If you’re hot in your home, visit a friend or relative with A/C, or go to a public place like the mall, library, grocery store or other public facility with good air conditioning. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking enough fluids. You need to increase your fluid intake regardless of your daily activity when it’s hot. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink cool fluids. And stay away from drinks containing alcohol, caffeine or large amounts of sugar as they can cause you to actually lose body fluid. Check with your doctor if you take a “water pill” or other medication and ask them how much cool fluid you should be drinking daily. If you must venture outside, try to go out in the early morning or early evening when it’s cooler. Avoid outside activity in the midday sun. Use sunscreen and wear lightweight, light colored, loose fitting clothing. A wide-brimmed hat can help keep you cooler. It’s a good idea that senior citizens 65 years of age and older should have a friend or relative check on them twice daily. Good communication can be the key to early detection of a heat-related emergency. At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, we’re concerned about your health and safety. Visit our website at www.sheriff.org or contact us if you need any assistance. Have a safe and enjoyable summer.
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