“We’ve seen a few heat-related illnesses,” said Dr. Van Baker, DO, FACEP, emergency department director for St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital.
Baker said heat cramps are the most mild, followed by heat exhaustion and then heat stroke, which can be life-threatening.
“Heat cramps are the first warning signs you are having a problem,” he said. “Heat cramps cause muscle cramps in major muscle areas, such as your legs.”
Baker said if you have heat cramps, stop what you are doing, get in a cool area, re-hydrate and rest for at least two-to-three hours or more.
“Remaining hydrated is the only way to ensure you have proper body temperature regulation,” he said.
Baker said with heat exhaustion, your heart rate goes up because you’re dehydrated and your temperature also goes up.
“At that point, it is very important to follow the steps to treat heat cramps and no more activity that day—you need 24-48 hours of rest,” he said.
Baker said the most common presenting stage in the emergency room is heat exhaustion.
“Heat stroke can be life-threatening and can affect the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles,” he said. “Heat stroke typically starts when your body temperature is 104 degrees or higher. Symptoms include dizziness and confusion.”
Baker said individuals with heat stroke should seek emergency assistance immediately.
“Call 911—don’t try to drive to the hospital yourself,” he said. “While you are waiting on the ambulance, stay inside and apply moist towels or clothing to major areas of body surface and use a fan.”
Baker said keeping hydrated is very important.
“Drink frequent modest amounts,” he said. “If you are required to be exposed to the sun or performing manual labor, drink as soon as every 30 minutes.”
Baker said Gatorade and other sports drinks are OK, however water is the best.
“Patients at risk include the very young and elderly, so be sure to watch for signs of dehydration,” he said.
Baker said elderly patients are at risk due to medications that predispose them to dehydration such as blood pressure medication, diuretics and antihistamines.
“Avoid sun exposure from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. if possible,” he said. “Use an umbrella at the beach and adequate hat and eye protection.”
Baker said it is best to avoid tanning beds, because you get a lot of UV rays and it increases the risk of skin cancer significantly.
“Sunscreen is important,” he said. “In general, apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it every two hours whether you are in the water or not. Even ‘waterproof’ sunscreen breaks down after about 40 minutes, so you should reapply it every hour or so.”
Baker said he recommends sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above.
“SPF 30 blocks 95 percent of UV rays,” he said. “Above this, you get very little additional protection. Avoid sunscreen that contains vitamin A or PABA. Find a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays.”
Baker said all skin types require sun protection because UV rays will damage all types of skin.
“You should seek medical attention for severe sunburns with blisters or signs of infection,” he said. “Severe burns on the face, hands and feet need medical attention.”
Dr. E. Alexander, with American Family Care in Pell City, said some sunburns are severe enough to be actual burns, similar to receiving a burn from a hot stove.
“Those you treat like a burn,” he said. “You want to prevent infection.”
Alexander said there are many treatments, such as Xeroform, a petroleum gauze, and Silvadene cream, a silver-based product that keeps bacteria out and helps healing.
“The Silvadene cream has actual silver in it, so it can cause the skin to turn black,” he said. “These are prescription medicines, and your doctor will help choose the right option to treat your burn.”
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