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WakeMed Blogs

Beat the Heat: A Note About Heat-Related Illness

July 02, 2019

Most often, people heed warnings and stay inside when North Carolina’s humid, record-breaking summer temperatures first hit.  But as these temperatures settle in to stay a while, people may not be as cautious in avoiding extended exposure in the heat as they go about their daily routines. 

3 Tips from WakeMed Physicians

#1 – Stay hydrated.

With temperatures soaring into the upper 90’s – and the heat index between 100 and 105 degrees – it’s important to stay hydrated, limit your time outdoors and be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

#2 – Listen to your body.

If you are outside and you start to feel overheated or dizzy, stop what you are doing and cool down.

#3 – Go to a cool or shadier place.

Becoming dehydrated in the summer can contribute to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

When it Comes to Heat Illnesses, Know the Difference.

Lastly, below is an overview of each (Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke) – along with symptoms and treatment:

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat illness and consist of painful muscle cramps and spasms that occur during or after intense exercise and sweating in high heat. If someone has heat cramps, they should move to a cool place and rest; remove excess clothing; drink fluids – water or sports drinks with electrolytes; stretch the cramped muscles slowly and gently.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps and results from a loss of water and salt in the body. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle cramps
  • Pale moist skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling faint

The treatment for heat exhaustion is similar to heat cramps. The person should move to a cool place and rest; remove excess clothing; drink fluids – water or sports drinks with electrolytes; if the patient cannot take fluids, call 911 because IV fluids may be necessary.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency.

If a person becomes dehydrated and cannot sweat enough to cool their body, their internal temperature may rise to dangerously high levels, causing heat stroke.

The elderly, babies, people who work outdoors, people who are obese, those with poor circulation, and people on certain types of medications or drinking alcohol are most susceptible to heat stroke. It is a condition that develops rapidly and requires immediate medical treatment.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Warm dry skin
  • Fapid heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Stupor
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you suspect someone has heat stroke, call 911.

Move them to a cool place to rest; remove excess clothing and drench skin with cool water; fan them; place ice bags on the armpits and groin area; offer cool fluids if they are able to drink.


Our Emergency Departments Are Open 24/7

Remember, WakeMed emergency departments are always open – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not sure if it’s worth a trip to the ER? View these helpful tips on when to visit the emergency department.