July 12, 2017

A University of Missouri Health Care physician suggests that people take precautions to protect themselves against high temperatures and humidity levels.

Photo of Karli Urban
Karli Urban, MD

“Heat-related illnesses that we treat most often at Mizzou Urgent Care include dehydration, heat rash and heat exhaustion,” said Karli Urban, MD, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the MU School of Medicine and a physician at Mizzou Urgent Care. “MU Health Care’s emergency departments also treat patients for heat stroke. High temperatures and humidity levels can lead to serious illness and even the risk of death quickly ― often with only subtle warnings.”

While heat-related illnesses can affect anyone, children and older adults are especially at risk. For those with health conditions such as cardiovascular and lung diseases, additional stress from heat and humidity can trigger life-threatening events.

“It is very important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses,” Urban said. “It also is important to understand what to do when you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms.”

  • Dehydration signs: Dry mouth, thirstiness, dry lips, fatigue, lightheadedness and headache. Treatment: Drink plenty of water. If you are sweating a lot, drink beverages that replace body salts and minerals lost through sweat, such as sports beverages. For very young children, drink hydration fluids designed specifically for salt and mineral replacement in kids.

  • Heat exhaustion signs: Dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, nausea and profuse sweating. Treatment: Find an air-conditioned environment and rest. Take a cool bath and put on lightweight non-layered clothing.

  • Heat stroke signs: Extremely high body temperature of 104 or 105 degrees Fahrenheit; hot, dry skin with no sweating; rapid pulse; confusion; and changes in mental status. Treatment: This is a serious medical emergency. When a person is so hot that they cannot drink enough fluids on their own, 911 must be called immediately for emergency treatment.

Like the elderly, children can be especially at risk for heat-related illnesses.

“Children gain heat through their skin much faster than adults do, and hydration becomes even more important for them,” Urban said. “However, heat-related injury is always preventable. Being well hydrated before exposure to the heat and then maintaining hydration with appropriate fluids and frequent cooling breaks during activity is vital.”

During times of high heat and humidity, Urban suggests that parents monitor younger children’s thirst, as well as their sweat, urine output and urine color. A well-hydrated child usually has clear urine, while a dehydrated child has dark urine.

Urban offers these basic tips for everyone dealing with summer heat:

  • Timing is everything. Consider exercising indoors. If that’s not an option, exercise or spend time outside during the morning or evening when it’s cooler.

  • Watch humidity levels. High humidity doesn’t just feel hotter; it makes it harder for the body to cool itself because sweat won’t evaporate.

  • If you are in a building without air conditioning, open the windows for ventilation and use fans. Visit cool public places, such as libraries and stores that serve as community cooling stations.

  • Wear loose-fitting non-layered clothing to allow your body’s sweat to evaporate.

  • When outdoors, avoid direct sunlight and stay in shaded areas as much as possible.

“Above all, never leave a person or a pet in a motor vehicle,” Urban said. “Not even for a second. Motor vehicles are not insulated at all and lose the cool temperature from air conditioning almost immediately. Combined with the fact that glass surrounds the passenger compartment, a vehicle can turn into an oven within just a few minutes.”

Video: To download broadcast-quality video, go to http://muextmedia.missouri.edu/munews/

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