ALTON — The dog days of summer are upon us. There are several health-related issues to be aware of but one of the No. 1 concerns is monitoring your body’s reaction to heat.
The leadership at OSF Saint Anthony’s Emergency Department, Emergency Services Medical Director Dr. Rodger Hanko and Director of Emergency Services Nikki Brunaugh, would like to remind residents to exercise extra caution when temperatures spike.
It’s important to be aware of some of the body’s warning signs and take appropriate actions if necessary, says Dr. Hanko:
Heat cramps, usually in the legs and stomach, are generally accompanied by fever and nausea. The cramps are brought on by the loss of body salts and water through perspiration. If possible, get in the shade or a cool spot and drink plenty of water or a sports drink that replenish your electrolytes — no alcohol or energy drinks.
Heat exhaustion — the body temperature and blood pressure can drop, skin turns clammy and cool, the face pales and the pulse weakens. An individual with heat exhaustion is usually wringing wet with perspiration, especially on their face and forehead. Heat exhaustion is a step away from heat stroke and should be taken seriously. Remove the sufferer from the situation — go somewhere cool and slowly lower their body temperature.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911. Heat stroke is the most dangerous consequence of unbearable heat, also known as sunstroke: sweating stops, the skin becomes dry and hot, the face flushed, the pulse rapid. Heat stroke victims often slip into unconsciousness. If a heat stroke continues without medical attention, death or permanent disabilities are possible.
“Extreme heat levels are more likely to affect the very young, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses,” Hanko said. “If you are taking medications, make sure you’re aware of how they affect your body’s ability to handle the higher temperatures.”
“If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, the best thing to do is to get them into a cool environment, elevate their feet and give them some water. You should contact the person’s doctor or call the emergency room if you have any questions,” Brunaugh said. “The high temps and humidity can cause the situation to spiral out of control rapidly. Listen to your body. If you are unsure about the situation, seek help immediately.”
Brunaugh added some additional summer health concerns like: sunburns, insect bites, operating summer equipment, food poisoning, fireworks and boating safety. Follow these safety tips:
• Avoid excessive exposure or strenuous outdoor exercise when the sun’s rays are most severe — between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
• Be sure to replace lost fluids, especially with water. If you’re going to be sweating excessively, make sure to increase your water intake to compensate.
• When working or playing outside, avoid wearing perfumes, flower-printed clothing and always wear shoes to prevent insect bites.
• Avoid playing with fireworks. They create a serious risk for burns, eye injuries and other hazards. You cannot control the flight of a bottle rocket — leave it to the professionals. For children, sparklers burn at extremely high temperatures: use caution.
• Keep picnic food cool. When you are enjoying your summer picnic, remember that anything containing mayonnaise, dairy or eggs and any meat products can become contaminated with bacteria after only a couple of hours of being unrefrigerated.
• For sunburns, bathe in cool water and drink plenty of fluids. Call your physician if the burn is severe or the person is feverish and ill.
• Do not drink while boating, and make sure to wear a life vest. Drinking and boating is as dangerous as drinking and driving. And if you’re swimming in the river, take into consideration the currents and drop-offs.
“If you aren’t sure about a situation, let a medical professional check it out,” Hanko said. “We’re fortunate to live in an area where so many outdoor activities are available. If you remain alert to the warning signs, you and your loved ones can enjoy your summer and avoid a trip to the emergency room.”
For information about heat-related health conditions, call OSF Saint Anthony’s Emergency Department at (618) 474-6260.