Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's Hot: Health Risks in the Summer

at 10:11 AM

OK so school is out and the kids are swimming, that is a good thing right? Well we all grew up with a simple answer when we were kids..summer is awesome! While it's fun to watch the kids have the same excitement that we once had for the summer we must remember that when it comes to our health...we are not kids anymore. It seems we can't turn on the news without being reminded that we are experiencing record heat across many countries at this time often associated with significant wind and drought conditions. Therefore there is a lot more at stake as we get older as it relates to taking the "normal heat" a little more seriously than when we were kids.

It is natural for us to shed a few unwanted pounds as we become more active in the summer. This occurs due to a slight increase in our basic metabolic rate (BMR). As we pump more blood out to the skin we naturally enable ourselves to sweat and thereby cool ourselves to a constant inner body core temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. If however we maintain an environment for too long a period of time in which heat gain exceeds our body's ability to provide heat loss then this is when danger and heat related illness can occur. Heat index readings should be taken into account not only for the actual temperature but also the relative humidity or moisture that is in the air.

Typically temperatures above 27 degrees Celsius can create a variety of heat related symptoms from irritability to fatigue to mental sluggishness. Over prolonged periods of times and / or maintained higher temperatures can then lead to a loss of fluids and electrolyte imbalance and exhaustion. Studies indicate that adults over 45 years of age as well as those that are overweight have more significant health related symptoms and risks.

Some symptoms to take seriously during these extreme conditions include edema in the feet, legs or ankles, typically seen in the geriatric population due to exposure to heat. Also common are heat cramps, this is seen when the water intake and salt intake are out of balance, seen frequently in athletics during prolonged heat. Additionally, exhaustion due to heat is a common and dangerous result of loosing too much water and salt from the body due to excess sweating. Heat related exhaustion can demonstrate a variety of symptoms including nausea, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, numbness and visual disturbances. Also common during prolonged heat can be heat syncope or fainting due to a temporary insufficient blood flow to the brain. Lastly, one of the more serious concerns of prolonged exposure to heat is that of heat stroke. This results due to the core body temperature rising up to 4 degrees or more from normal and can present with similar symptoms to that of fainting. It should be noted that both fainting and heat stroke should be evaluated as soon as possible by a healthcare professional to ensure no permanent damage has occurred. Otherwise cool climates, rest and fluids with electrolytes is the best immediate option.

So enjoy the summer, drink plenty of fluids to include electrolytes and try to plan activities that are relatively short in duration especially if age or weight is a risk factor...your health and your life depends on it. Best Wishes.

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