The Dangers of Heatstroke: How to Stay Cool in Hot Weather
July 08--The summer heat is in full swing. And that means it's time to start worrying about overheating or heatstroke -- a common problem for people in mid-life and beyond.
Your body doesn't have the cooling ability it did when you were young. So if you've been outside for a while and ignore such warning signs as thirst, nausea, lethargy, dizziness or profuse sweating, a case of overheating could turn into a deadly stroke. Body temperature can go as high as 110 degrees during heatstroke.
At that temperature, body proteins start breaking down, and organs can fail, said Dr. Mark Moseley, medical director of the emergency department at Ohio State University Medical Center.
"You're basically being cooked," Moseley said.
The extreme heat has kept Columbus Fire paramedics Bill Herbert and Sean McCray busy. The pair, who work out of the Linden fire station on Cleveland Avenue, treated three people yesterday for heat-related problems, including one child.
McCray said of children: "They compensate and decompensate so much because they are little, and they're not going to stop playing just because it's hot."
But potential heatstroke is serious. Paramedics often strip off patients' clothing, attach IVs and a monitor and put ice packs around them before getting them to a hospital.
The Fire Division treated 10 people with heat-related symptoms between Saturday and Tuesday, Battalion Chief David Whiting said.
"Last year, we probably only had 10 for the whole summer," Herbert said.
Children and the elderly are at highest risk.
Many elderly people either have lost the ability to sense thirst and don't drink enough fluids, or their bodies do not regulate temperature well, said Libby Gomia, clinical manager of the senior options program at the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.
Some medications can complicate the problem. Diuretics or drugs used to treat kidney, liver or heart problems interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature.
But most cases of heat-related illness do not escalate to heatstroke. Before that, a patient can experience hyperpyrexia, which occurs when the body exceeds about 104 degrees, causing the person to feel woozy and perhaps pass out.
People experiencing those preliminary symptoms should consume a lot of fluids, move to an air-conditioned place and, if symptoms persist or worsen, go to an emergency room, Moseley said.
Children are susceptible to overheating because they get dehydrated easily, said Kathy Nuss, associate director of emergency medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
If a child complains of nausea, dizziness, weakness or thirst and has been in the heat for a while, the child should be taken inside. It helps to remove some clothing and give the child plenty of liquids.
Parents of babies should watch for listlessness and lethargy and a temperature of 100 degrees or higher, Nuss said.
Avoiding heat-related illnesses is all about common sense, Moseley said.
"When it's 93 or 94 degrees, you probably won't be able to be outside long before your body starts giving you clues that it doesn't like what you're doing," Moseley said. "You have to listen to your body."