Chill Out: Precautions Can Prevent Heat Illnesses

7/17/2013

As temperatures and humidity levels rise, so too do visits to Beaumont Health System emergency centers. With proper precautions, most heat illnesses are preventable.

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, each year about 400 deaths and thousands of emergency department visits are caused by heat illnesses.

The three biggest mistakes people make in warm weather:

  • Not drinking enough fluid before as well as during activities;
  • Not wearing proper clothing. You need to wear light colored, lightweight, loose fitting, clothes with breathable fabric. Wear a hat that is ventilated and provides shade;
  • Not recognizing the early warning signs of heat exhaustion- nausea, light-headedness, fatigue, muscle cramping and dizziness.

"It's important to get out of the sun and heat and into the shade," explains Jeffrey Ditkoff, M.D., emergency medicine specialist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

While infants and people aged 65 or older are most at risk for heat illnesses, it can affect anyone, even exercise enthusiasts.

Hydration is key. Whenever possible, individuals should refrain from strenuous activities. Drinking water is good, but for those involved in heavy activities, sports drinks are best. Sport drinks are ideal for active hydration because they contain electrolytes. Avoid beverages with alcohol.

"Left untreated heat exhaustion and heat stroke can lead to death. If an individual is confused, or passes out, is hot but not sweating, prompt medical care is needed immediately," says Dr. Ditkoff.