When Melissa Overton was 4 years old, her grandmother suffered a heat stroke, and her family didn’t know how to help her.
“She basically overheated, and we knew that it was bad when she got disoriented,” Overton said. “I can remember them asking her, ‘Are you OK?’ and she fell over.”
That was back in the 1970s, Overton said, when neither doctors nor the public knew much about helping someone survive a a heat stroke. Without the proper attention, her grandmother died.
Today, Overton is a registered nurse and the owner of MedicalTraining.me in Smithfield, where she primarily teaches classes for health-care professionals, industrial workers and childcare providers. But Overton also stresses that the public should prepare itself for medical emergencies, because loved ones often need help before an ambulance can arrive.
With the summer swelter, Overton said, people need to pay attention and plan ahead before spending time outdoors.
It’s key to drink plenty of fluids before spending time in the sun and to pack plenty of cool drinks to keep hydrated once outside. An easy way to tell if your body needs more liquids is to pay attention when using the bathroom, Overton said. Urine should be clear or lightly colored. If instead it’s dark or yellow, you need to drink more fluids.
Water is a good choice for staying hydrated, Overton said, but sports drinks are even better. That’s because when the body sweats, it doesn’t just give off liquid. Sweat also secretes the body’s natural sugars and electrolytes, and sports drinks help replace what is lost.
Alcohol, on the other hand, actually dehydrates your body faster, she said. That makes it critical to monitor your drinking when spending long hours in the sun.
Try not to spend too much time outdoors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., normally the hottest hours of the day, Overton said. If you do plan to spend time in the heat, take regular breaks to cool off in the shade. That’s especially true if you are exerting yourself through exercise, yard work or other physical activity.
Signs of danger
Heat exhaustion leads to heat stroke, Overton said, so it is crucial to recognize the symptoms before they get out of hand. Signs of heat exhaustion include:
▪ Heavy sweating.
▪ Dizziness and feelings of faintness.
▪ Muscle cramps.
If you or someone you know shows signs of heat exhaustion, take steps to cool down and rehydrate immediately, Overton said. These include:
▪ Lying down somewhere cool, such as in the shade or air conditioning.
▪ Removing as much clothing as possible.
▪ Placing something cool, such as ice, on the neck, armpit and/or groin area.
▪ Drinking cool liquids, preferably something with sugar and electrolytes, such as a sports drink.
Heat stroke has many of the same symptoms has heat exhaustion, except they are more severe and potentially life threatening. In addition, a person having a heat stroke will stop sweating, and he or she might become confused, pass out or have a seizure.
At that point, it’s time to call 911. Plan to stay on the line until the ambulance arrives, Overton said, because the operator can offer advice in the meantime that might save the person’s life.
To help cool the person down, get him into air conditioning immediately. If there’s a swimming pool or other body of water around, lead the overheated person out until he is neck-deep in the water. Someone should accompany the victim in the water, Overton said, because people suffering a heat stroke often become confused and incoherent.
“At that point, we just have to stop the heating process because it’s causing potential long-term brain damage and/or death,” she said.
Children and the elderly have a higher risk of heat-related problems. Because heat stroke causes confusion, it’s important to monitor your friends and family for signs of the life-threatening ailment.