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Extreme Heat Can Cause Heat Related Illness

Know your risk, and signs of heat stroke

With travel season in full swing, and the dog days of summer, higher temperatures coupled with increased humidity in Tennessee can do a number on your health if you are not prepared. Extreme summer heat is already increasing in the United States just in time for the Fourth of July holiday. The latest forecast shows temperatures reaching in the upper 90s with heat index values that could reach as high as 105 degrees as the week progresses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Heat-related deaths have been increasing in the U.S., with approximately 1,602 occurring in 2021, 1,722 in 2022, and 2,302 in 2023. It’s crucial that people take precautions against prolonged or intense exposure to hot temperatures that can cause heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke. 

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The body has several ways to deal with excess heat. The first way is through the skin by releasing internal heat to the surface. The second way is through breathing, where body-temperature air is exhaled and replaced by cooler, inhaled air. The third, and most important, is through sweating. Water in sweat evaporates, taking heat with it and cooling the skin. When the body can’t shed enough heat, its core temperature starts to rise and serious danger can follow. 

Those most prone to heat related illnesses include young children, athletes, senior citizens and people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and cancer. Symptoms can range from headache, dizziness, cramps and nausea to confusion, heavy sweating, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness and passing out. 

The most serious of heat related illnesses is heat stroke, where the body’s cooling systems become overwhelmed. The body temperature rises, leading to a rapid heart rate and shallow breathing. Sometimes decreased sweating can lead to significant mental changes and confusion. Immediate medical treatment is needed to prevent any permanent brain and organ injury, coma and death.

The best way to avoid heat illness is through prevention with these tips:

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  • Stay in air conditioning. When possible, stay in air conditioning on hot days. If you don’t have air conditioning, head to a library, shopping mall, and other public spaces to keep cool.
  • Check on loved ones. Extreme heat can affect anyone of any age, including youth and adults. Be sure to check on older friends and neighbors who live alone and don’t have air conditioning.
  • Avoid the hottest part of the day. If you have to be outside, stick to the cooler morning and evening hours. Wear light, loose clothing and take frequent, air conditioned breaks.
  • Beware of hot cars. Never leave a person or a pet in a parked car, even for a short time. On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 100 degrees in less than 10 minutes.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water on hot days. Avoid alcohol and heavy meals. If you must be outdoors, drink a quart of fluid every hour or so.  You can alternate water with a sports-type drink. Skip the caffeine and alcohol since they increase urination and dehydration. 
  • Stay informed. Watch your local weather forecasts so you can plan outdoor activities safely. Pay attention to any extreme heat alerts.

If you start feeling overheated, weak, dizzy, nauseated, or have muscle cramps, you could be experiencing heat illness. Move to air conditioning, drink water, get under a fan, and put cool washcloths to the back of the neck. If symptoms worsen or don’t improve, seek immediate medical treatment at the emergency room. For any concern of heat stroke, call 911 immediately.

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