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Heat-related illness: How to Recognize the Signs

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The Bay Area Air Quality Management District designated today another Spare the Air Day. With the highs climbing into the 90s in the East Bay, it's not only a day to cut back on driving, it's also a way to protect yourself from heat-related illness.

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures (like what happens when we're stuck at home or at work with no air conditioning) can cause heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke. You can succumb to heat-related illness during exercise or during day-to-day life.

What are the types of heat-related illnesses?

  • Heat cramps happen when you lose excessive amounts of fluids and salt. When you sweat heavily, you also lose potassium and magnesium. If you don't replace those fluids and electrolytes with water and/or a sports drink, you can develop muscle spasms. If you get a cramp, stop any strenuous activity for several hours and rehydrate.
  • Heat exhaustion is the next phase of heat illness. Excessive loss of fluids disturbs circulation and interferes with brain function. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, dizziness, irritability, headache, thirst, weakness, a high body temperature, excessive sweating and decreased urine output.

If you or someone you know experiences heat exhaustion symptoms, get to a cool place quickly. Cold, wet towels will help cool the body. Drink water or a sports drink to rehydrate.

  • Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness. The key symptom is a body temperature of 104 degrees or more. A person with heat stroke will also be confused and have red, dry or damp skin. They may also have some of the same symptoms as heat exhaustion.

If you suspect you or someone you know has heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately. Body temperature must be lowered quickly to prevent permanent damage.

How do I prevent heat-related illness?

You can develop a heat-related illness by spending time in the home, office or car without air conditioning. Children and seniors are especially vulnerable because their bodies don't have the ability to manage heat as well. Seniors may also be unable to leave home and seek cooler environs.

To prevent heat illness, follow these safety tips. If you're home during the day, try these extra tips to keep cool:

  • Keep a fan running.
  • Use a spray bottle to spritz water on your arms, neck, etc.
  • Chill a towel or a washcloth in the refrigerator and drape it around your neck.
  • Drink lots of cold water.
  • Take cool showers.

How do you stay cool during heat waves? Let us know in a comment on my Facebook page.

Photo: Gary Reyes, Bay Area News Group

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
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Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 925-308-6484
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