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When is Hot Too Hot?

July 20, 2018

As summer rolls along, the days will get hotter and hotter. As August creeps up, there’s no doubt that the kids will want to spend more time outdoors before having to go back to school. However, when temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, overexposure to heat can be hazardous. Humid conditions, which are no stranger to Indiana, can add to this danger of high temperatures and can induce heat-related emergencies.[1]

Heat-related emergencies occur when a person’s body is unable to cool itself through sweating. It is most common when a person is dehydrated in elevated temperatures with high humidity and no breeze. Children are especially vulnerable because while they are busy playing and having fun, they might not recognize the symptoms.

It’s important to recognize a heat-related emergency and treat it before it becomes life-threatening. Here are three types of emergencies, each condition more serious than the previous:

Heat Cramps

This is the first stage of a heat emergency and the first sign that the body is not responding well to the heat. Heat cramps usually happen when a person has been physically active in hot weather, but they can happen by just being outside. Important symptoms to look out for include:

  • Painful muscle cramps, spasms or pain in the abdomen, arms and legs
  • Heavy sweating
  • Body temperature beginning to rise
  • Flushed looking appearance

If you suspect someone is having heat cramps, have them stop physical activity and move to a cool area. Give them water or a sports drink (no carbonated drinks). Finally, wait for cramps to go away before doing any more physical activity. Seek medical attention right away if cramps last longer than 1 hour, they’re on a low-sodium diet or they have heart problems.

Heat Exhaustion

This is the second stage of a heat emergency. Heat exhaustion happens when early signs of heat-related illnesses occur. The condition can worsen quickly if the following symptoms are not treated:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting/passing out
  • Nausea or vomiting

When a person is experiencing heat exhaustion, it’s important to have them sit or lie down in a cool, shady area. Remove or loosen clothing if they are constricting the person. Give them plenty of water and cool them down with cold compresses, ice packs or a cool bath. Seek medical attention right away if they are throwing up, if symptoms are getting worse or if symptoms last longer than one hour.

Heat Stroke

This is the final stage of heat-related illnesses and is a life-threatening emergency. Heat strokes occur when the victim’s internal temperature control system fails. Body temperatures can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Call 9-1-1 or go to an emergency room immediately if someone is experiencing the following symptoms:

  • High body temperature (103 degrees or higher
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Hot, red and dry skin (sweating has stopped)
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

While waiting for help, place the victim in a shady, cool area. Loosen or remove clothing, especially if they are sweaty. Give fluids unless the victim is vomiting or unconscious. Immerse the victim in a cool bath or use wet sheets, ice bags, fans or air conditioners to reduce body temperature. Place ice bags in key areas, such has the groin, armpits and the side of neck.
No matter where you are, St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital is here to provide closer, faster emergency care. With convenient locations around the Indianapolis area, you can expect to see a board-certified, emergency physician within 15 minutes of your arrival.

Find the St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital location nearest you.

How to Prevent Heat-Related Emergencies

  • Pay attention to summer temperature predictions and take all heat advisories seriously.
  • Be prepared when you know it’s going to be hot and humid outside. Pack water, hats, an umbrella, etc.
  • Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to high temperatures. The hottest temperatures of the day usually occur between 3:00 to 6:00 PM.
  • Take breaks and spend time in air conditioning.
  • Cool down with cool baths or showers.
  • Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated and carbonated beverages.
  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
  • Check individuals who are susceptible to heat-related illnesses often which include children, the elderly, those who are overweight and those who have been drinking alcohol.
  • DO NOT leave animals, children or the elderly inside a vehicle. Even if you are only going to be gone for a few minutes, even with the windows rolled down, this is very dangerous.

Read more from our Summer Care series and learn how you can keep your kids safe this summer.