Notes from the Nurse!
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Hello fellow Bostians!  Here we are in the middle of the dog days of summer.  Sun, fun, heat and then more heat.  Ever been curious as to where the phrase “dog days of summer” came from? The “dog days of summer” traditionally refers to a period of particularly hot and humid weather occurring during the summer months of July and August.  In ancient Greece and Rome, the Dog Days were believed to be the time of drought, bad luck, and unrest, when dogs and humans alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Well, on to the real reason we are talking about heat and the dog days of summer:  heat exhaustion vs. heatstroke.

As warmer weather occurs, we tend to spend more time outside under the hot sun. It’s important to know the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke.  Knowing the signs and symptoms of these two conditions could save your life, a loved one’s or even a complete stranger’s.  Of anyone, I am the worst for getting out into the sun, forgetting to stay hydrated and ending up with leg cramps during the night, just when I am trying to sleep.  The main cause of a heat-related incident is your body’s inability to cool itself through sweat.  Sweat is your body’s natural “air conditioner” for cooling you down.  If you over exercise, work strenuously, or even just spend the day in the pool or lake in hot weather, your body may have difficulty producing enough sweat to keep you cool.   Many of us don’t think about a day at the pool or lake as being “hot work” but if you don’t stay properly hydrated, this relaxing activity can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion or worst of all, heatstroke. Some medications can make you sensitive to the sun and cause over-heating issues. For example, some medications are potassium (K+) wasting, a group of medications that help your body eliminate excess water, but most also cause the loss of essential potassium along with the fluids. This can cause life-threatening problems with your heartbeat.  So, as if heat exhaustion and heatstroke weren’t enough, de-hydration along with some medications can really cause a day out in the sun to not be much fun.

Symptoms related to heat exhaustion or heatstroke can be very serious.  Developing muscle cramping may be the first indication that you are developing a heat-related illness.  So let’s take heat exhaustion first.  In all reality, we have all had heat exhaustion at some point in our lives, but just didn’t realize that we were in the beginning stages of a heat-related illness. The symptoms include general weakness, increased heavy sweating, excessive thirst, a weak but faster pulse or heart rate, nausea or vomiting, possible fainting and pale, cold, clammy skin.  If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke. Though both heat exhaustion and heatstroke are both a result from overexposure to extremely hot weather, only heatstroke can cause damage to the body’s system. Anyone who suspects that they have heat exhaustion should immediately take steps to cool down.  Get in the pool or lake if there; if not, move to a shady location, remove one or more articles of clothing, turn on a fan or the air conditioning and drink fluids such as water or sports drinks. With these measures, you should cool down quickly and start to feel back to normal.  If you get nauseated or vomit, contact emergency services.

Heatstroke may begin with symptoms of heat exhaustion and can be life-threatening if not treated with medical attention.  The symptoms may rapidly worsen and include a temperature of 104’ or higher, hot, dry skin, a racing heartbeat, confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness. There are two types of heatstroke, exertional and non-exertional.  I know I promised to never get way too deep into the weeds, so just know that there are two types of heatstroke.  I feel that one would be enough, but nature feels that we have to have two.

Non-exertional occurs in those of us who cannot adapt well to increasingly hot temperatures and exertional occurs in people whose bodies can no longer adapt to rising temperatures while exercising or working. We can lose up to a half a gallon of fluids through sweating on a hot day in just an hour.  That is why it is so important to keep hydrated and take breaks if you must be outside working or even just spending time next to the pool or at the lake. Anyone experiencing heatstroke symptoms must seek immediate medical attention.

The best way to treat heat exhaustion and heatstroke is, you got it, by preventing it.  When temperatures rise, it is important to know how to prevent heat-related illnesses. The goal is to keep your body cool by staying indoors during the hottest part of the day, drinking an extra 2-4 cups of water every hour while exposed to high temperatures and taking frequent breaks when working or exercising outdoors on hot days.

With appropriate, timely treatment, a person can fully recover from heat-related illnesses.  Recognizing the symptoms of heat exhaustion and taking steps to cool down can prevent the condition from developing into heatstroke. If left untreated, heatstroke can result in serious complications or death. When a person receives the right treatment early enough, they can fully recover from heatstroke. Here are some final take away points to remember to help with avoiding heat-related illnesses:  plan your day to include frequent breaks in the shade or pool, take precautions when working in the hot sun for any length of time by remember to always hydrate, hydrate and then again, hydrate. Let’s all enjoy our Arkansas dog days of summer safely!  The Nurse.



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