By SMH Emergency Medicine Pharmacy Residency Team
We’re quickly approaching peak summer swelter here in the Sunshine State. As the mercury and humidity continue to rise, medical care providers are reporting an increase in heat-related illness cases.
These illnesses range from mild heat rash to heat exhaustion and even heatstroke. Anyone can become sick from exposure to high temperatures for long periods of time, but infants and seniors older than 65 are the most at risk.
Most cases are preventable, yet severe cases are responsible for thousands of ER visits each year and are suspected to be the cause of up to 500 deaths annually.
Heat Exhaustion: What You Need to Know
Early signs of heat exhaustion can include nausea, light-headedness, fatigue, muscle cramping and dizziness. While heat exhaustion is more common and usually more mild than heatstroke, it can take 24 to 48 hours to recover.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
- Dizzy or fainting
- Heavy sweating
- Cold or pale skin
- Nausea or vomiting
Actions to Take
Heat exhaustion is easily treatable. If you notice the above symptoms after prolonged exposure to heat or the sun, use these steps to quickly lower your internal temperature before illness worsens.
- Hydrate. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol.
- Move to cooler air (like a shady spot or ideally in air-conditioning), and remove or loosen clothing that might be holding in heat.
- Lie down.
- Apply cold compresses to the cheeks, palms of hands and soles of the feet.
Children & Heat Illnesses
Florida’s summer combo of sun, humidity and heat can actually make children sick. Among the most vulnerable to heat exposure, infants cannot yet regulate their body temperature, they sweat less and they can dehydrate quickly.
“Almost 50 percent of heat-related illnesses happen in the pediatric population,” explains First Physicians Group Pediatrician Jose Tavarez, MD. It’s important that parents and caregivers not only know how to prevent heat stroke and heat exhaustion, but that they know how to spot it and what to do if a child shows symptoms.
Preventing Heat-related Illness
“Focus on hydration, hydration, hydration,” Dr. Tavarez advises. “Make sure there is breast milk / formula available for infants, and frequently offer water to toddlers and children. Remember, do not give babies water before they’re 6 months old.”
Try to stay indoors with infants during the hottest parts of the day, and when outdoors, choose a shady spot for activities. Avoid direct sun exposure, and dress children in lightweight clothing.
Look before you lock. Did you know that a leading cause of pediatric heatstroke is children getting stuck in hot cars — whether forgotten by a caregiver or because they gained access on their own?
“Temperatures inside a car can become very, very high in a very short time,” says Dr. Tavarez. Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, and be sure to stash car keys out of kids’ reach.
Click here for more ways to prevent pediatric vehicular heatstroke.
Heat Exposure Symptoms in Infants & Kids
- Intense thirst
- Not urinating for many hours
- Extreme tiredness (unusually sleepy, drowsy or hard to arouse)
- Cool, clammy skin
- Shallow breathing or breathing faster than normal
- Skin tingling or muscle aches / spasms
When to Worry
Call 9-1-1 and seek immediate emergency care if a child exhibits these symptoms after heat exposure:
- Hard to wake up or won’t wake up
- Acts confused
- Hot, red and dry skin
- Very weak
- Fever over 105 degrees
While awaiting care, try to bring baby’s temperature down: Sponge bathe them with a cloth dipped in cool water; lay them down in a cool location; and use a fan.
Heatstroke: What You Need to Know
Heatstroke is far more severe than other heat-related illnesses and requires immediate medical attention.
Warning Signs of Heatstroke
- Loss of consciousness
- NO SWEATING
- Warm skin
- Temperature over 104 degrees
Actions to Take
If you suspect heatstroke, call 9-1-1 immediately and follow the same steps as those for heat exhaustion, until emergency medical services arrives.
More Information on Heat-related Illness
“Warning Signs & Symptoms of Heat-related Illness,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Stay Cool with These Hydration Top Tips,” SMH Healthe-Matters blog
“Preventing Hot Car Deaths,” First Physicians Group blog
“Protecting Children from Extreme Heat: Information for Parents,” American Academy of Pediatrics
"Hot Weather Safety Tips for Older Adults," Health In Aging Foundation