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Did you know your body is constantly in a struggle to disperse the heat it produces? Most of the time, you're hardly aware of it – unless your body is exposed to more heat than it can handle.
In 2014, 244 people died in the U.S. from exposure to excessive heat, according to
Injury Facts 2017, the annual statistical report on unintentional injuries produced by the National Safety Council. Heat-related illnesses can escalate rapidly, leading to delirium, organ damage and even death.
several heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke (the most severe), heat exhaustion and heat cramps. Those most at risk include:
Heatstroke can occur when the ability to sweat fails and body temperature rises quickly. The brain and vital organs are effectively "cooked" as body temperature rises to a dangerous level in a matter of minutes. Heatstroke is often fatal, and those who do survive may have permanent damage to their organs.
Someone experiencing heatstroke will have extremely hot skin, and an altered mental state, ranging from slight confusion to coma. Seizures also can result. Ridding the body of excess heat is crucial for survival.
When the body loses an excessive amount of salt and water, heat exhaustion can set in. People who work outdoors and athletes are particularly susceptible.
Symptoms are similar to those of the flu and can include severe thirst, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting and, sometimes, diarrhea. Other symptoms include profuse sweating, clammy or pale skin, dizziness, rapid pulse and normal or slightly elevated body temperature.
Uncontrolled heat exhaustion can evolve into heatstroke, so make sure to treat the victim quickly.
Heat cramps are muscle spasms that usually affect the legs or abdominal muscles, often after physical activity. Excessive sweating reduces salt levels in the body, which can result in heat cramps.
Workers or athletes with pain or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs should not return to work for a few hours. Instead:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers
more information on heat-related illness in this FAQ.
The best way to avoid a heat-related illness is to limit exposure outdoors during hot days. Air conditioning is the best way to cool off, according to the CDC. Also:
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, about three kids die each week in hot cars.