Doctor Is In: Heat- related illnesses

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR)- As temperatures rise again, Dr. Saggar, KPLR`s Doctor Is In, joins us to talk about heat-related illnesses and what precautions we can all take to prevent bad things happening to ourselves as well as to our neighbors, as a result of the heat.

Exposure to abnormal or prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without relief or adequate fluid intake can cause various types of heat-related illness. People at the extremes of age, kids and the elderly, adjust more slowly than the rest of us, to changes in environmental heat.

Kids also produce more heat with activity, and they sweat less.

Sweating is one of the body's normal cooling mechanisms. Children and adolescents often don`t think to rest when having fun and may not drink enough fluids when playing, exercising, or participating in sports.

There are three types of heat-related illnesses:
● Heat cramps
● Heat exhaustion
● Heat stroke

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat injury and consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat.

As well as the painful leg cramps, you typically get flushed and moist skin.

The best thing to do when heat cramps occur:
● Move to a cool place and rest.
● Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on skin and fan the skin.
● Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar, such as Gatorade.
● Stretch cramped muscles slowly and gently.

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a greater loss of water and salt from the body.  It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.

Signs of heat exhaustion:
● Muscle cramps
● Pale, moist skin
● Usually has a fever over 100.4° F (or 34° C)
● Nausea
● Vomiting
● Diarrhea
● Headache
● Fatigue
● Weakness
● Anxiety, and faint feeling

Management of heat exhaustion:
● Move to a cool place and rest.
● Remove excess clothing and place cool cloths on skin; fan skin.
● Give cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar, such as Gatorade.
● If no improvement or unable to take fluids, IV (intravenous) fluids may be necessary at the ER or at some urgent cares; at Saint Louis Urgent Cares we often give IV fluids for heat exhaustion quite a few times over the summer at all our facilities.

Heat stroke, the most severe form of heat illness, occurs when the body's heat-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat.

It is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Signs of heat stroke:
● Warm, dry skin
● high fever, usually over 104° F (or 40° C)
● Rapid heart rate
● Loss of appetite
● Nausea
● Vomiting
● Headache
● Fatigue
● Confusion, Agitation, Lethargy, Stupor
● Seizures, coma, and death are possible
Management of heat stroke:
● Move to a cool place and rest.
● Call 911 or your local emergency medical service. Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency and needs to be treated by a doctor.
● Remove excess clothing and drench skin with cool water; fan skin.
● Place ice bags on the armpits and groin areas.
● Offer cool fluids if alert and able to drink
How can heat stroke be prevented?
Some general guidelines to help protect your adolescent or yourself from heat-related illnesses include the following:
● Drink plenty of fluids during vigorous or outdoor activities (including sunbathing), especially on hot days. Drinks of choice include water and sports drinks
● Avoid alcohol and fluids with caffeine, such as tea, coffee, and cola, as these can lead to dehydration.
● Make sure you wear  light colored, lightweight, tightly-woven, loose-fitting clothing on hot days.
● Schedule vigorous activity and sports for cooler times of the day. Take rest periods in shady or cool areas.
● Makes sure you are protected from the sun and wear a hat and sunglasses, and even use an umbrella.
● Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF (sun protection factor) 30.
● Increase time spent outdoors gradually to get your body used to the heat.
● Teach adolescents to take frequent drink breaks and "wet down" or mist themselves with a spray bottle to avoid becoming overheated.
● Try to spend as much time indoors as possible on very hot and humid days.
● Warm-up and cool-down before and after exercising, respectively.

Dr. Sonny Saggar is a practicing emergency physician, an internist, and the founder of STLHealthWorks.com, which includes popular Saint Louis Urgent Cares locations, including Downtown Urgent Care, Eureka, North City and Creve Coeur.