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Summer Sun can lead to Serious Sickness

As Iowa residents bask in the warm Summer weather, precautions should be made to prevent heat related illnesses. 

A football game with your friends.  Sun tanning by the pool.  Out fishing on the cool, clear lake.

All of these are activities people commonly participate in to enjoy the hot summer temperatures, but what most people do not realize is activities such as these can lead to serious and even fatal heat illnesses.  That is unless necessary precautions are taken.

During the first week of June, Iowans got a glimpse at the warm temperatures they will be facing these summer months. The Des Moines Register reported that temperatures in various cities across the state ranged from the high 80s and topped out in the low 100s.  And according to the Quad-City Times, the highest heat index calculations for areas in Iowa reached highs of 104. The heat index is the calculation of temperature and humidity to establish how hot it ‘feels’ outside.

As it begins to get warmer, the temperature brings notice the potential dangers of the heat and ways in which to treat/prevent those dangers.

Joe Nellis, a senior and pre-med student at the University of Iowa, learned of heat exhaustion the hard way.

“My encounter with heat exhaustion happened while I was relaxing out on a lake one summer,” said Nellis, “and as much as I should have known better, I did not put on any sunscreen and was not drinking nearly as much water as I should have.”

After hours on the boat with the sun’s rays reflecting off of the water, Joe started feeling sick.

“I was feeling really tired and groggy, and I noticed I stopped sweating.  It was like having the flu.  I felt flushed like right after you are done throwing-up.”

Fortunately for Nellis, he noticed his symptoms before any serious damage was done, and he was able to get indoors, cool down and rehydrate.  But upon experiencing heat exhaustion, he said, “I was lucky, but even to that small of degree, I would not want to do it again.

Though Joe was relatively unaffected, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention calculated that 3,442 people died from heat related illnesses between the years of 1999 to 2003.  That is about 860 people a year fatally affected by the heat.

According to Dr. Azeemuddin Ahmed, a clinical associate professor at the University of Iowa, heat illnesses are described as continual and can range from easily managed to extremely dangerous.

“When looking at heat illnesses,” said Dr. Ahmed, “there are three generalized levels that make up the spectrum:  heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  Cramps are the least serious and stroke is most, but one can go from cramps to stroke easily.”

Here are the symptoms of the different heat related illnesses:

  • Heat cramps– Symptoms of heat cramps include cramping in the body’s large muscles groups like the arms and legs.  One will still be sweating but at a decreased rate.  Finally, one will begin to feel tired or drained of energy.
  • Heat exhaustion– With heat exhaustion, sweating becomes noticeably decreased, and one may begin to feel nauseous and start to vomit.  Due to dehydration, one will start to get headaches.
  • Heat stroke– Heat stroke has all of the symptoms of the previous two but to an increased degree.  One will also begin to experience a “mental status change” like delirium, seizures and even a coma.

“If exposed for too long, heat stroke can be lethal,” explained Dr. Ahmed.  “It is like your brain is being fried.”

But what can be done to prevent heat illnesses?

Hydration is key.  The Mayo Clinic website states that an adult person needs to drink about 8 ounces of water a day.  But if out in the heat and sweating, one will need to compensate  for the larger amount of water leaving the body.

One should avoid doing physical activity during times of day when the temperature is at its highest.  This is usually around the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest.  If one is looking to go jog  outside, they should wait and do it in the morning or evening times when it is less hot outside.

“Heat illnesses are not limited to those doing physical activity though,” said Dr. Ahmed.  “While you hear the stories of football player affected by heat exhaustion and stroke, most people outside working in the heat have become acclimatized to it and are less likely affected.  However, it is those that remain in the same spot for long periods of time that may be exposed the most.”

Such activates Dr. Ahmed meant were going to a ballgame, sitting at an air show, laying out by the lake or pool and so on.

If mention of the pool is concerning to you, Iowa City pool goers’ worries should be put to rest.  Shelby Buckley, a City Park Pool manager, stated that as long as she has been manager there has never been an instance of a patron suffering a serious heat illness.

“We did have one time when a life guard fainted,” said Buckley, “but after getting her into the shade and giving her some water, she was almost instantly better.”

Buckley went on to describe the pools Emergency Action Plan (EAP).

“If a lifeguard notices someone that looks like they are going to faint or are looking as though they are going to be sick, they will blow their whistle to clear the area, and they will escort the person to a cool area and get them some water.  If it is a case where they have already fainted, the guard will begin CPR and a manager will call an ambulance.  I am glad to say that I have not had to do that.”

So, while one can feel safe when going to the pool, there are many activities where one has to take prevention into their owns hands.

“That is the one thing I can stress,” said Dr. Ahmed with his final statements.  “Prevention and smart body awareness are key otherwise what might have been an easily treated case of cramps or exhaustion may lead to something more life threatening.”

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Posted by on June 29, 2011 in Feature Stories