Summer Safety Series: Avoiding heat-related illness through the Dog Days of Summer

By Kristy Bleizeffer Jul 18, 2016

Graphic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In the dog days of summer, temperatures in Casper could easily reach 100 degrees or more. The heat isn’t just uncomfortable, it can have serious health consequences.

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Hyperthermia, or heat-illness, is caused when your body is unable to compensate for the heat and cannot properly cool itself. It can cause devastating residual effects if left unchecked, said Dr. Andy Dunn, a family physician at Mesa Primary Care.

“People can die from it, whether it’s from a stroke, anoxic brain injury or a cardiovascular event. Passing out and hitting your head could be a catastrophic event,” he said. Here's what you need to know.

HYPERTHERMIA

Hyperthermia is a group of heat-related illnesses ranging from heat syncope and progressing to heat stroke — a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. These illnesses include:

  • Heat syncope: Feeling faint or dizzy, particularly for those unused to the heat or who take a beta blocker heart medication.
  • Heat cramps: Muscle pain in stomach, arms or legs while the skin feels moist and cool.
  • Heat edema: Swelling in your ankles and feet. Elevate your legs while in the shade or inside. If the swelling doesn’t go down quickly, check with your doctor.
  • Heat exhaustion: Profuse sweating, feeling thirsty, dizzy, weak, nauseated and/or uncoordinated. Your pulse may be racing. Heat exhaustion is your body’s warning that it can no longer keep itself cool.
  • Heat stroke: A serious condition that requires medical attention. When body temperature rises to 102 to 103 degrees, and won’t drop, you need to seek help, Dunn said.

Those most at risk include children, athletes, the elderly, people with chronic health conditions, people who work outdoors and anyone exerting themselves beyond their capabilities in extreme heat. The activities we like to do in the summer also make us susceptible if we’re not careful. These include hiking, playing team sports with lots of equipment and even swimming.

“It’s usually run of the mill things, like working the yard,” Dunn said. “You start tending your vegetables, you haven’t drank enough water, and the next thing you know, you’ve been out there several hours and you’re sweating profusely. I always tell people, if you start feeling really sick, you’ve got to shut it down.”

Graphic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BEAT THE HEAT

  • Wear light (in color and in weight) clothing that breathes well. Wear sunblock and reapply as directed.
  • Schedule your activity for earlier or later to avoid the hottest part of the day. Runners, shoot for morning or evening and coaches, plan your practices to prevent your athletes (particularly those in heavy pads and equipment) from over exerting mid-day.
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade or an air-conditioned room.
  • Replenish fluids by drinking plenty of water or water mixed with Gatorade. Dunn recommends drinking 62 to 64 ounces of water on a day with normal activity. If you’ll be working or playing outside, you need to increase that amount. Avoid soda, energy drinks and caffeine. Water is the best hydrator but athletes may need to supplement with Gatorade.
  • Watch for symptoms of hyperthermia in children such as not acting like themselves, being extra fussy or lethargic, flushed cheeks, complaining of stomach cramps or just not acting like themselves, Dunn said. If they aren’t eating or drinking, that is also a sign they may be too hot.
  • Cool yourself down if you feel light headed, dizzy or nauseous or if your muscles are cramping. Sit in a breeze or in front of a fan and remove extra layers of clothes. Put a cool washcloth over your forehead. You want to cool yourself gradually, Dunn said, instead of jumping into a cold pool or a bucket of ice. (Unless body temperature is reaching 108 degrees or so, and this is a medical emergency that should be treated by medical professionals.)
  • Get help if your body won’t cool or if you are feeling woozy, passing out, have heart palpitations or your heart is racing, experience numbness or tingling in your extremities, have urinary incontinence or experience changes in vision. These require medical attention. “When neurologically you start feeling something isn’t right, then you need to get checked out,” Dunn said.
Andy Dunn, MD

Andy Dunn M.D.

Dr. Dunn is board certified in family medicine and is medical director of Mesa Primary Care and Sage Primary Care. He grew up in Denver and moved to Casper to complete his residency at University of Wyoming Family Practice. He was a Wyoming Medical Center hospitalist for several years. 

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