The HEAT is on!

Jul 8 2010 - 10:10am

After a long series of rainy days, hiccups of snow flurries, and chilly wind, summer is finally here. As we celebrate by spending more time out in the sun, we should also remember that summer's heat can also be dangerous SEmD both for humans and our furry friends.

The risks for people

The heat may seem fine at first, but it doesn't take much for the outdoors to become a risky place to be. Especially if you're active outdoors or even wearing heavy clothing -- such as battle gear -- and mild symptoms like heat cramps can swiftly turn into a serious problem.

"The good news is heat illness is preventable," said Maj. Robert Martin of the 75th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. "It all starts with a solid understanding of the processes involved."

Martin is referring to the process of thermoregulation, or the "body's ability to maintain a constant internal temperature of 98.6 degrees (Fahrenheit)." Sweating is a major way for the body to regulate its internal temperature, and when heavy clothing or battle gear is worn, this process can be impeded, Martin explained.

 

Dehydration

"Staying adequately hydrated is essential to the cooling process," Martin said. Excessive sweating and inadequate intake of water during hot weather or exercise can contribute to dehydration.

Of course, not all fluids will rehydrate the body and, in fact, some fluids will actually further dehydrate the body.

"Many beverages we drink daily actually contribute to dehydration," Martin said. "Coffee, tea and soft drinks actually promote dehydration through a process called diuresis. As your body processes caffeine and other byproducts, higher amounts of water are lost as well."

Martin proposes that the average adult working in extreme heat should drink about one gallon of water a day. Instead of keeping a measuring cup handy, a simpler way of keeping track is to have eight regular-sized bottles of water (500 milliliters or 16.9 fluid ounces) and number each cap 1 through 8. If you drink No. 8 by dinnertime, you're right on track.

"Obviously this is a general rule," Martin said. "Extreme temperatures and strenuous activity will require more hydration. Keep it simple. If you haven't urinated in three to four hours, you're behind in your hydration."

If you fall behind in your hydration and continue to work and sweat in the heat, you might find yourself developing other symptoms of heat-related illness. These symptoms start small but can gradually become worse. If action is not taken, heat-related illness can even be fatal.

 

Heat Cramps

The first stage of heat-related illness is heat cramps. This condition may result in painful, involuntary muscle spasms, usually in your calves, arms, abdominal wall and back.

"Mild cases can be reversed by sipping electrolyte beverages like Gatorade and a salty snack such as peanuts or crackers," Martin said. "If severe muscle spasms continue, seek medical advice. IV fluids may be administered."

The Mayo Clinic also suggests resting and letting your body cool down, gently stretching and massaging the affected muscle group, and refraining from strenuous activity for several hours or longer after the heat cramps go away.

 

Heat exhaustion

As heat-related illness progresses and you lose more fluids and electrolytes your blood pressure can drop, which causes dizziness or fainting. To compensate, Martin described, your heart rate and breathing will go up. You may also feel confused, nauseous and might also have to throw up.

At this point you've reached heat exhaustion. "It's important to recognize these signs," Martin said. "Get out of the heat and rehydrate with electrolytes and salty snacks. Ice packs or cool wet cloths will help."

Martin also suggests seeking medical attention so that IV fluids can be provided if necessary.

"If you continue working in this overheated state, you're dangerously close to the third and final stage of heat illness," Martin warns.

 

Heat stroke

Heat stroke occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. It is highly important that you seek out immediate medical attention at this stage because heat stroke can lead to brain damage, organ failure and even death.

"This is a medical emergency," Martin stressed. "It's important to recognize the signs. Irritability, cramping and hyperventilation can quickly evolve to seizures, coma and death."

It's important to get a heat stroke victim out of the heat as quickly as possible. "Loosen restrictive clothing and place ice packs under their armpits and groin," Martin said. "Get medical assistance immediately."

The Mayo Clinic also stresses that heat stroke should not be self-treated. Medical facilities are better equipped to cool your body down using cold water, evaporation cooling techniques and more.

 

Prevention

If at all possible, the best defense is to try and prevent heat-related illness from ever occurring. The National Center for Environmental Health's Health Studies Branch put together several prevention tips:

*Never leave anyone -- especially children -- in a closed, parked vehicle, even with the windows rolled down.

*Drink more fluids, regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages or those that contain high amounts of sugar. Also try to avoid very cold drinks as they may cause stomach cramps.

*Stay indoors and, if possible, stay in an air-conditioned place.

*Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned location is more effective than an electric fan when temperatures reach the high 90s.

*Wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.

*Try to limit your outdoor activity to the morning and evening hours.

*Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher is also recommended. Products that say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels are most effective.

 

The risks for pets

Not only can we humans get sick from dehydration and extreme heat, but our four-legged friends can as well. It's possible for even healthy pets to suffer from dehydration, sunburn and even heat stroke.

"All animals should have access to cool water and lots of it at all times and shady areas to rest," said Melanie Swartz, doctor of veterinary medicine, chief, Hill Veterinary Services and a member of the U.S. Army. "For those breeds that are thick-coated or have short snouts, consider keeping them (inside in the air conditioning.)"

 

Warning signs

If you notice your pet panting uncontrollably and being excessively lethargic, it could be suffering from dehydration or heat stroke. Other symptoms can include drooling, stupor, seizures, vomiting and diarrhea, and an elevated body temperature.

If your pet is exhibiting these symptoms, you should immediately move it to a cool, air-conditioned space and take it to the nearest emergency vet clinic, Swartz advised.

 

Sunburn

Despite their constant covering of fur, animals are still susceptible to sunburn. Animal sunburn looks just like people sunburn and the burned area can even blister or peel.

"Cats, especially those with white noses and ears, can progress to squamous cell carcinoma, or skin cancer," Swartz warns.

Pet owners should also note that hot asphalt can lead to painful burns on a pet's paw pads. It's best to keep walks to a minimum when it's hot outside or try to walk your pet during the morning or evening hours. You might even consider trying out a new path that has grass instead of asphalt or concrete.

 

Cooling off

It's important to allow your pet a place to cool off, but it's just as important to remember that places like the swimming pool and open windows have risks of their own.

"Never leave a pet unattended by a pool," Swartz warned. "They are like small children that way. No matter how many times your dog has gotten out of the pool just fine, it only takes a few minutes for a dog to drown."

Cats are also susceptible to what is called "High-Rise Syndrome," which is a term for the trauma a cat sustains after falling out of a high-rise window. "It is completely preventable by making sure the windows have secure screens that prevent a cat from falling out accidentally," Swartz said.

 

Prevention

Other tips from the ASPCA for preventing overheating are:

*Give your dog a lightweight summer haircut. Shave down to a one-inch length, but never to the skin so that your dog still has protection from the sun.

*Brush your cat often.

*Be sure that any sunscreen or insect repellant you use on your pets is labeled specifically for animals.

 

'Tis the season

Pet owners should also be aware of other dangers presented by the warm, summer months. Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes all present risks to your pet, so make sure you consult your vet about products to help prevent disease and infestation, like Frontline or Advantix.

"Also, the mosquitoes are plentiful this year and carry heartworm disease and West Nile virus," Swartz said. "All dogs should be tested annually for heartworm disease and receive heartworm preventative monthly."

"Horses should receive the West Nile virus vaccine annually as they are susceptible to this disease," she added. "Small pets like cats or dogs rarely get West Nile virus."

As the great Benjamin Franklin once said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." If you and your family -- pets included -- stay cool, keep hydrated and stay on the lookout for symptoms of heat-related illness, this summer is sure to be a blast, hot weather and all.

For more information on heat-related illness please contact the base clinic at (801) 728-2600 or go to www.mayoclinic.com.

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