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'Ask the Doc': heat-related illness

By Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kang Kim | Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany | September 3, 2015

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This “Ask the Doc” column addresses the prevention of heat-related illness. "Ask the Doc" is written by Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Florida, providers from its hospital and five branch health clinics in Florida and Georgia. 

Question:  What is heat illness or heat-related illness?

Answer:  Heat-related illness is defined as a spectrum of disorders caused when someone is subjected to extreme temperatures and humidity and his or her body is unable to compensate and properly cool down.  

These disorders range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  When people get hot, their bodies cool down through the evaporation of sweat. However under extreme heat conditions, sometimes individuals’ bodies’ natural sweating — and its evaporation — just may not be enough to cool down and the body temperature can increase to dangerous levels if precautions aren’t taken.

Question:  What are some of the warning signs?

Answer:  Warning signs can include red bumps on the skin, prickly or itchy skin, elevated pulse, headaches, significant sweating, involuntary spasms of the muscles, cramps and aches, paleness, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and fatigue. 

Other warning signs — usually associated with heat stroke — such as excessive hot and dry skin, very high body temperatures, confusion, seizures and unconsciousness require immediate medical attention and can result in death.

Question:  Who is at risk?

Answer:  Heat-related illness can affect anyone. However athletes and people who exercise and work outdoors in extreme heat are at higher risk of being affected. 

Also at high risk are infants and children up to 4 years of age; people, 65 years or older; people who are overweight and those with chronic medical conditions or on certain medications.

Question:  How can individuals protect themselves against heat-related illness?

Answer:  The best defense is prevention. 

*  Increase fluid intake — drink more water than usual and don’t wait until thirsty. 

*  Replace salt and minerals lost through heavy sweating and avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar. 

*  Schedule outdoor activities carefully, and when partaking in outdoor activities try to avoid direct sunlight when possible. 

*  Wear appropriate clothing and use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.

During extreme heat conditions, stay cool indoors whenever possible and monitor those who are at higher risk. 

Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable. Learn to recognize the signs of heat illness and what to do in case of an emergency. 

For more information, visit your primary care manager or call Health Promotions at 229-639-9535.


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