If you are like me, you spend much of your time taking care of your animals, working in the garden, and other tasks that care for your family. One thing I tend to be lax on, is taking care of me. In the hot days of summer, it becomes very important that we are taking very good care of ourselves so that we can continue to be there to take care of our animals, our friends and our family. This summer, the heat in our area has been stifling and the humidity is reaching dangerous levels. It is definitely the time of year that protecting oneself from heat exhaustion and heat stroke becomes vital. As a paramedic, I have seen heat exhaustion on several occasions and suffered a heat exhaustion that neared the heat stroke level myself when I was a teenager. Without getting too technical, I want to make you aware of what happens when the body overheats, explain the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, give some tips to prevent heat injury, and give some treatment ideas when heat injury happen, and most importantly let you know when it is imperative to seek medical attention rather than continue home treatments. For those who want more information that is found here, you are welcome to purchase my e-book Heat Stoke on the Homestead, for a nominal fee.
The body is a remarkable “machine”. Of the many systems the body has and many ways it keeps everything balanced, temperature regulation is one of the most important. The largest organ in the body is the skin and the skin, in conjunction with the circulatory system, works together to maintain the perfect temperature for the functioning of the other systems. When temperatures rise, the pores in the skin open, fluid from the cells push through the pores to the surface to create sweat. The sweat is then evaporated into the air, and that evaporation cools the surface of the body. At the same time, the blood vessels near the skin dilate to carry more blood close to the surface so that the blood circulating is cooled by the skin and the evaporation process. This is a much simplified explanation, but it gives you the general idea and will help you to remember the reasons behind the signs, symptoms and treatments of heat related illness.
Some quick tips for preventing heat related illness:
- work early and late in the day, avoiding intense heat times
- take frequent breaks
- stay hydrated, drink 1 cup water every 15 minutes during exposure to sun/heat
- wear loose, breathable clothing
- wear a hat
- wear light colored clothing
- avoid salt tablets and salty foods
- avoid alcoholic drinks
- avoid caffeine
- avoid smoking
- find a breezy area for breaks, or fan yourself
- leave your shirt on
As the body becomes unable to cool as fast as necessary to maintain a normal body temperature, heat exhaustion begins to occur. The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are easy to recognize, if you pay attention. These symptoms can be treated at home and should be paid attention to in order to prevent a more serious condition, heat stroke, the can be fatal and most likely will need emergency treatment in a medical facility. As you are working outside, or in other any other hot environment, listen to your body and pay close attention to the development of the following heat exhaustion symptoms:
- muscle cramping
- excessive sweating
- pale skin
- cool, clammy skin
- throbbing headache
- increased body temp to 102° F
- decreasing heart rate
As soon as you recognize any of the above symptoms in yourself or someone else, it is important to take the appropriate actions to prevent the condition from becoming worse.
Treatment for heat exhaustion does not have to involve a doctor or hospital. Common sense and listening to your body will allow you to treat yourself on the homestead and avoid the expense, time, and inconvenience of traveling to the doctor or hospital. However, it is vitally important that you DO FOLLOW THE TREATMENTS. Failing to do so, can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.
- get out of the heat; this is THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP
- rest in a cool shady area (air conditioned building is best if available)
- put the feet up and avoid further activity
- drink plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol, sugar and caffeine
- remove as much clothing as possible to allow for moisture evaporation/cooling
- use fans to create air movement if no breeze is blowing
- take a cool (NOT COLD) shower, if a shower is not available, place cool rags on the groin, arm pits and each side of the neck
- DO NOT USE ICE TO COOL, cool rags are sufficient
- Call it a day, do not go back to activity in the heat until your body has a chance to recover
The above actions should help your body rehydrate and go back to its normal ability to cool itself. Be aware, once you have suffered a heat exhaustion point, it may take several days, or even weeks, before your body is fully recovered. You will be much more susceptible to heat illness and may have to limit your strenuous outdoor activity during the hottest times even more than before. It may be an inconvenience, but a necessary one to make sure you stay healthy and able to do the jobs at hand to keep things running smoothly. If your time in the sun has gone too far, the treatments above don’t work and you begin to see the following signs and symptoms, you (or the one you are working with) may be entering the state of heat stroke. I can’t emphasize enough that this is a dangerous condition, that will REQUIRE immediate, emergency medical care.
- passing out
- red, hot, dry skin
- throbbing headache
- body temp 104° F or higher
- rapid heartbeat
If the symptoms of heat exhaustion last longer than 30 minutes with no improvement and/or any of the above symptoms develop, get to the hospital immediately. If there will be any delay in getting there, such as an isolated area, no transportation, no one to drive you, call 911 for an ambulance. The EMS crew can begin treatment on the way to the hospital. In most parts of our country, the ambulance and the well trained crews work like a rolling emergency room, with the ability to take care of emergency medical situations while rolling down the road. The immediate treatment is necessary because the body is likely in a dangerous state of dehydration which can lead to organ failure, such as the kidneys shutting down and irregular, fatal heart rhythms; brain injury due to high body temperatures; and shock. IV fluids will likely be necessary to replace fluids quickly, along with vital minerals and electrolytes. More aggressive cooling measures may be needed. I won’t advocate calling an ambulance often, or be adamant about going to the hospital, as I do believe many things can be taken care of at home, and with the treatment of a primary care physician…..yes, I am in favor of wholistic medicine and a huge fan of herbal remedies, but I am also not going to turn my back on the knowledge of a professional…..a heat related emergency is one of those times that I cannot encourage you enough to be sensible, pay attention to your body, and seek medical attention immediately if there is ANYTHING that seems amiss after cooling off for a bit.
I have taken the time do some more in depth writing for those who want to know and understand more about the how the body works in extreme heat, who is most susceptible to heat illnesses and why, exactly how the heat harms the body, and some specific “home made energy drink” recipes for those who do not like to drink plain water. I have an e-book offering all this information and more that can be ordered for a nominal fee, Heat Stoke on the Homestead.
Many of our forefathers did of the heat as they traveled across the plains to their pioneer homes. Today, we have the knowledge, resources and ability to make sure that we avoid those mistakes in our Modern Pioneer lifestyles. 🙂