TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Those beautiful golden summer rays might look quite appealing after springtime showers, but, if you’re not careful, that summer sun can quickly turn dangerous.
“Exertional heat illness is one of the leading causes of death in young athletes each year,” said Dr. Ed Geno, a physician in The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences.
“Children and the elderly are also more at risk,” Geno said. “The elderly do not have the same cardiovascular ability to sweat and get the heat out of their system. There are also many medications that can predispose someone to a heat injury of any kind.”
There are several types of heat illness. Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are the most common, while heat stroke is the most severe.
With heat stroke, the core body temperature is elevated above 104 degrees, and the person can start to exhibit brain symptoms — trouble walking, having seizures and hallucinations and loss of consciousness, Geno said, stressing the importance of seeking immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms happen.
Other symptoms may include headache, skin redness and warmth, rapid breathing and heartbeat, diarrhea and vomiting, muscle cramps and lack of sweating.
“The severity of heat stroke is directly related to the length of time someone is hot,” said the assistant professor in UA’s department of family, internal and rural medicine.
“So, if you start having symptoms of heat cramps or heat exhaustion — heavy sweating, nausea, headache, faintness, dizziness, muscle cramps — you need to stop and immediately begin cooling your body down to prevent heat stroke.”
You can do this by spraying your body with cool water or taking a cool shower; moving to the shade, an air-conditioned car or toward a fan; drinking water or sports drinks, but never alcohol; removing extra clothing; or putting a cold pack on the back of your neck or under your armpits.
If you know you are going to be in the sun for any length of time, take precautions.
“You can do this by gradually increasing your exercise rather than starting at full force and drinking enough fluids so you do not feel thirsty,” Geno said. “Wear lightweight clothing, and do activities earlier or later in the day. And, never leave someone in a hot car.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.