Our Opinion: Recognize and respond to heat illnesses

Avoiding triple-digit temperatures isn’t always possible, or desirable.

Confinement in the air-conditioned indoors means missing ball games, barbecues and summer activities.

Participating in outdoor activities with minimal risk is possible if people recognize the signs of heat-related illness and react promptly and properly.

“Heat illness is the result of the body’s inability to adjust to the increase in body temperature,” according to Steve Ball, a University of Missouri Extension specialist and associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology.

Ball advises people who will be outdoors to prepare themselves by:

• Drinking water and other fluids before, during and after activities.

• Taking frequent breaks to allow the body to cool.

• Eating water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Heat-related illnesses are divided into three categories, each with its own set of symptoms.

• Heat cramps. This first sign of heat illness causes involuntary muscle spasms that can occur during or following physical exertion. They generally result from an electrolyte imbalance due to perspiration and excessive loss of salts.

• Heat exhaustion. A more serious heat illness, its symptoms can include collapsing; excessive sweating; cold, clammy skin; normal or slightly elevated body temperature; paleness; dizziness; weak, yet rapid pulse; shallow breathing; nausea and headache.

• Heat stroke. The most advanced stage of heat illness, it occurs when the body is unable to cool itself. Symptoms of heat stroke can include cessation of sweating; skin that appears dry and hot; strong, rapid pulse and difficulty breathing.

People suffering heat cramps and/or exhaustion are advised to drink more water, reduce the level of intensity of their activities and seek shade.

Ball urges heat stroke victims to seek immediate medical attention. They can be assisted and cooled by raising their feet, removing clothing, submerging them in cold water or placing wet sheets or ice packs on them.

During extreme temperatures, we must heed the signals from our own bodies.

And, because different people react differently to heat, we must watch for signs of distress exhibited by others.

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