Monday, July 9, 2018

Too hot to handle? Dallas’ Parkland Hospital provides tips to avoid heat exhaustion, heat stroke

By Parkland Memorial Hospital

Editor’s Note: This summer, MeAndMyDoctor is focusing on several health hazards that can put a damper on seasonal fun. This week, Parkland Hospital in Dallas and TMA physician Alexander Eastman, MD, cover the dangers of rising summer temperatures and explain how to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 

Even though the first “official day” of summer was June 21, Dallas residents saw 21 days in May and 27 in June with temperatures at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. And to make even the coolest dude break a sweat, the first triple-digit day was recorded on June 2, when the temperature climbed to 101 degrees. Though not a record-breaker, this was the first time in four years the temperature hit the century mark before July 1. And the city logged five more sizzling days in the 100-plus range throughout the month.

This extreme Dallas heat combined with strenuous physical activity and high humidity can be a recipe for danger, according to Parkland Health & Hospital System physicians.

From 1999 to 2010, 7,415 deaths in the United States, an average of 618 per year, were associated with exposure to excessive natural heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 68 percent of those heat-related deaths were among males. Since 2010, Parkland Memorial Hospital has treated more than 430 patients with heat-related diagnoses in its emergency department.

“Even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses,” said Alexander Eastman, MD, medical director and chief of the Rees-Jones Trauma Center at Parkland and assistant professor of surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It’s important to use common sense — if you think you are overheated, you probably are.”

Heat exhaustion occurs when people are exposed to high temperatures and when the body loses fluids and becomes dehydrated. When heat exhaustion elevates, it may result in heat stroke, a life-threatening medical condition occurring when the body’s cooling system, which is controlled by the brain, stops working. The resulting high body temperature causes damage to internal organs, including the brain, and could result in death.

“People aged 65 years and older, infants, children, and people with chronic medical conditions are more prone to heat stress,” Dr. Eastman said. “Therefore it’s important for family or neighbors to visit an adult at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.”

It’s also important for individuals who work outdoors to pay attention to signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Dr. Eastman said. “Individuals including first responders, construction workers, landscapers, and others whose jobs require them to be outside need to be especially careful this time of the year,” he said.

Symptoms of heat stroke include thirst; red, warm, and dry skin; body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit; fast breathing and heart rate; vomiting; muscle cramps; confusion or disorientation and coma.

“If you see any of the warning signs of heat stroke, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency,” Dr. Eastman cautioned. “Have someone call 911 for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim.”

Dr. Eastman offered the following tips to help a heat stroke victim before medical assistance arrives:

  • Get the victim to a shady area.
  • Cool the victim rapidly, but avoid an ice bath, using whatever methods you can. For example, place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling until the body temperature drops to 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Do not give the victim fluids to drink.
  • If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side. 

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