Heat-related Ailments And Injuries

  • Heat-Related Illnesses
  • Burns
  • Sunburn

    Heat-Related Illnesses

    Heat-related illnesses usually occur when victims are unable to cool their bodies through perspiration and evaporation. It can also occur if body fluid loss is much faster than replenishment.

    The best way to deal with heat-related illnesses is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Always be conscious of weather conditions that can lead to these illnesses, such as temperatures of 90 F or higher and high humidity, being especially cautious if these two are combined. When these conditions occur, avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day.

    If outside activity is necessary, do not perform any activity that requires enough physical exertion to cause excessive sweating. Also, be on the lookout for the first signs of heat illness in yourself and others, such as heavy perspiration, muscle cramping, tiredness, headaches, dizziness or nausea.

    There are three levels of severity to heat-related illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and the most severe, heat stroke.

    Heat Cramps—Heat cramps are painful muscle contractions that are brought on by a combination of heat, dehydration and poor conditioning. The most common place for a heat cramp is in the calf muscle, and the only real symptom is the pain created by the contraction. This contraction can be severe, but is not a long-term threat. Recommended remedies are rest, drinking water, stretching and a cool environment.

    Heat Exhaustion—Heat exhaustion occurs when excessive fluid loss causes the core body temperature to climb to, or in excess of, 102 F. Heat and high humidity, along with inadequate replenishment of fluids, are normally the main contributors to heat exhaustion.

    Symptoms of heat exhaustion are weakness, fatigue, headache, nausea, paleness of skin, rapid heart rate and vomiting. Victims of heat exhaustion are normally still coherent, except in advanced stages, where they may become disoriented.

    To treat heat exhaustion, move the victim to a shady, cool place, ideally a place with air-conditioned air. Cool down the body by covering it with wet towels or by fanning. Giving the victim too much water too quickly could send them into shock, so do not administer more than two quarts of water per hour. In severely exhausted victims, an IV of fluids may be needed, especially if vomiting prevents them from drinking. Monitor the victim's temperature until recovered. If the victim's condition worsens, seek medical attention.

    Heat Stroke—Heat stroke is the most severe form of the heat illnesses. Heat stroke can be life threatening and immediate action is required, the first of which should be to call for a doctor or emergency personnel.

    Some of the noticeable symptoms of heat stroke are cramping, pale coloration of the skin and hot, dry skin. Other, less obvious symptoms are a rapid heart rate and having an elevated temperature. These symptoms may be more, or less, noticeable depending on the victim's recent activities and environment.

    Heat stroke victims have very high temperatures of 106 F or higher. At this temperature, the blood vessels in the arms and legs constrict, reducing the flow of cooling blood. Victims of heat stroke often have reached a stage of incoherence, and could be unconscious or having seizures.

    Most importantly, if heat stroke is diagnosed, immediately seek medical attention and move the victim to a cool place, such as shade, an air-conditioned room or immersion in water. Remove constricting clothes. Apply cool, wet towels or clothes to the body and massage the arms and legs to promote blood flow. Monitor the victim's temperature and await professional medical help.

    Burns

    Burns are a common injury, with around two million people suffering burns annually in the United States. Over 6,000 people die every year as a result of burns, making it the third greatest cause of accidental death in America.

    The severity of burns is measured in three degrees.

  • First-degree burns are the least serious, affecting only the outer layer of the skin.
  • Second-degree burns are more serious, affecting the underlying layer of skin as well as the outer layer, and are often signified by blistering of the skin.
  • Third-degree burns are very serious. Third-degree burns extend into deeper tissue and are signified by the skin becoming brown or black at the wound. They can be life threatening.

    It is imperative that a burn victim receives immediate first aid, as this will lessen the severity of the burn and help prevent scarring, deformity and disability.

    First aid for first- and second-degree burns:

  • In diagnosing the severity of the burn, level of pain experienced by the victim is not the best indicator, since the most serious of burns can be painless due to the destruction of the pain receptors within the skin. Instead, look for the color of the burn and the existence or absence of blisters.
  • Wash the wound with mild soap and water. Like any wound, a burn can become infected and all precautions should be taken to prevent this from happening, such as not breathing or coughing on it. If the burn is small it can be left uncovered, provided that it is frequently washed. Larger burns should be covered with a sterile bandage.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications can also be applied to the burn. The medications are designed to release heat from the wound and promote proper healing. Do not apply butter, petroleum jelly or any other types of non-medicated ointments.

    First aid for third-degree burns:

  • Third-degree burns require different first aid procedures. Professional medical help should be notified immediately.
  • Burnt clothing should not be removed unless it comes off easily.
  • Check to make sure the burn victim is still breathing. If breathing is absent, proceed with CPR.
  • Cover the burn area with a cool, moist bandage or piece of clean cloth, such as recently laundered bed linens, making sure not to break the victim's blisters. No ointments of any kind should be applied to the wound.
  • The burned part of the body should be raised above the level of the victim's heart, if possible.
  • In third-degree burn cases, as well as in severe second-degree burn cases, the victim has the potential to go into shock. Signs of shock are confused or anxious behavior, paleness of skin and fainting. To help prevent shock, make sure the victim is lying flat and elevate the feet approximately 12 inches into the air. Do not do this if it causes the victim discomfort due to the wounds. In severe burns, there is the potential of an even more dangerous secondary shock a few hours after the injury, which entails a large drop in blood pressure leading to extreme paleness, coldness in the body's extremities and collapse.

    Burn victims will likely be in a large amount of pain. Comfort burn victims verbally as much as possible.

    Sunburn

    Sunburn isn’t precisely a heat injury; it can easily occur in the coldest of weather. However, it’s of the most concern during the hottest days because that is typically when the least clothing is worn.

    If sunburn should occur, get out of the sun. Apply cold packs to the sunburn and then later apply an aloe-based lotion. Do not apply any oil-based lotions, petroleum jelly, or butter to the burn. These hold in heat and do not allow the wound to heal. Cool oatmeal baths will also help relieve the burning. If the sunburn blisters and is accompanied by fever, chills and nausea, seek a doctor’s help. There could be a risk of dehydration and infection.