Fluids, healthy diet key to preventing heat-related illnesses

Matt Gardner
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Another scorcher of a summer brings with it the risk of related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

To help Prince Albert residents stay safe, Parkland Ambulance Paramedics public affairs director Lyle Karasiuk spoke to the Daily Herald on Wednesday to discuss methods for prevention and treatment.

“The basic premise is that the higher the temperature and the higher the humidity, the more uncomfortable it will feel for you and I,” Karasiuk said, comparing the risk to wind chill in cold temperatures.

“A 40-below day without any wind is cold, but now you add a wind and it’s even colder,” he noted. “So take that in perspective with heat. It might be hot out, but if it’s a dry heat, it doesn’t feel as bad as if it were very humid.”

The sequence of events leading to heat-related illnesses often begins with a slight feeling of dizziness, or perhaps muscle cramps in the arms and legs.

“When we get somewhere cool, when we get something to drink -- we maybe get some nourishment -- we’ll start to feel better,” Karasiuk said. “If we don’t, it’ll progress to heat exhaustion.”

Heat exhaustion serves as a precursor to the more severe heat stroke.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include feeling tired, confused or light-headed -- often accompanied by nausea or general sensations of discomfort. The person will have flushed red skin and sweat profusely.

The most common heat-related illness encountered by local paramedics this year, heat exhaustion affects a wide range of demographics.

“We’ve seen a fair number of heat exhaustion people -- again, no particular group or class or age group,” Karasiuk said. “We’ll see them usually day three, day four into a stretch of heat.

“So I would suspect, and this is just a guess … by tomorrow, Friday, the weekend, if we continue with this extreme heat -- and it’s predicted to be that way -- we’ll start to see more people that are just nauseated, can’t keep food down, (are) light-headed, those sorts of circumstances.”

People exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion should be moved to a cooler area and drink water, after which their symptoms will likely subside after half an hour to an hour.

If a person cannot lower their body temperature, heat exhaustion will likely progress to heat stroke.

Symptoms of heat stroke include flushed, dry skin and a lack of sweating -- since the body has already lost so much water through sweat that it is unable to continue.

At that point, the person is experiencing what Karasiuk described as a “serious heat emergency” and should immediately seek medical attention by calling 911.

When we get somewhere cool, when we get something to drink -- we maybe get some nourishment -- we’ll start to feel better. If we don’t, it’ll progress to heat exhaustion. Lyle Karasiuk

“They’re just literally burning from the inside out … They need some rapid cooling, but more likely (their) internal body organs are really at risk of damage because they don’t tolerate the heat,” he said.

Unlike heat exhaustion, heat stroke poses a much greater risk to specific demographics -- in this case, the very young and the very old, who are less likely to be able to regulate their own body temperature.

“You get a two-month or a six-month old baby, they can’t tell you, ‘Mommy, I’m hot.’ … They’ll just get very uncomfortable, plus young bodies don’t handle sun and manage heat well,” Karasiuk said.

“When we’re very old, again, it’s often because of our bodies’ physical abnormalities, but it’s often because of certain medications (that) prevent us from maintaining a regular body heat system.”

Those suffering heat stroke will often have experienced very hot conditions for several days.

To help avoid the risk, Karasiuk urged residents with older neighbours or family members to check up on them regularly, making sure they drink plenty of water and stay cool.

“Even a simple household fan, if you don’t have central air in your house, can lower the air temperature blowing against you by seven or eight degrees,” he said. “That may mean a little bit more comfort.”

Just as important as regular fluid intake -- rather than waiting until one feels thirsty -- is a healthy diet.

“We should be eating regular balanced light meals so we can keep up the nourishment -- fruits, vegetables,” Karasiuk said.

“People say, ‘I need sports drinks and I need salt tablets.’ I’m not a big believer in that and there’s some research to say pluses and minuses to each. But again, a lot of it has to do with a good balanced diet, because we get a lot of salt in our regular diet just from day-to-day food.”

Despite recent cases of heat exhaustion, Karasiuk said that the heat this summer in Prince Albert has not been drastically worse than in previous years.

But as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“Stay cool as best as you can -- (with) fluids, good regular diet, you’ll be fine.”

Organizations: Daily Herald

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