|HEAT RELATED EMERGENCIES
It appears that summer is finally upon us. That means 90-100 degree temperatures with high humidity. The Heat Index (HI) is the temperature the body feels when heat and humidity are combined. Here are a few examples:
On average, about 175 Americans succumb to the taxing demands of environmental heat exposure every year. Our bodies dissipate heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation and by losing water through the skin via sweat glands. Sweating cools the body through evaporation but high relative humidity retards evaporation, robbing the body of its ability to cool itself. When heat gain exceeds the level the body can remove, body temperature begins to rise and heat related illnesses may develop. The two issues you need to be aware of are Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.
Heat exhaustion is brought on by over exertion in a hot environment without adequate hydration. Basically, that's working or playing for a long period of time, without drinking enough fluids, outside in the Texas summer heat. The body looses fluids via sweating, which then reduces the body's ability to cool itself and also reduces blood flow to skeletal muscles. This can cause the person to become extremely weak, dizzy, nauseous, severe headaches and their skin may be pink or gray and cool to the touch.
What do you do to correct this? First, move the person to a cooler environment. This can be an air conditioned building or even just to a shady location with a fan blowing on them. Also, give modest amounts of fluids such as water or an electrolyte drink (sports drinks like Gatorade). This will replace the lost body fluids and help the body cool to a normal level. If the patient doesn't cool down, Heat Exhaustion can progress into Heat Stroke.
Heat Stroke is the complete failure of the body's heat regulatory system due to heat stress. This means that your body has been overheated for so long that it cannot cool itself anymore. When this happens, the body temperature rapidly rises to life threatening levels. Signs of this are an altered mental state, hot and dry skin (in some instances, it may be moist), a body temperature of over 104° and possibly even seizures. This situation is a true emergency. The first thing you do is dial 9-1-1. Next, move the patient to a cooler environment and use aggressive cooling measures. This includes wet towels and ice packs to the neck, armpits and groin area to assist the body with cooling. This will help the patient until we can get there to provide care and EMS can transport them to the hospital.
We all love Austin because of the wide variety of outdoor activities it offers. When you are enjoying the outdoors during the hot summer months, be sure and take care of yourself. Use sunscreen, keep cool and drink lots of fluids so you don't end up calling us and taking a ride with our good friends, the Austin / Travis County Paramedics!