Take steps to avoid heat stroke

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With temperatures holding steady in the upper 90s and even reaching 100 degrees this week, doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are urging Middle Tennesseans to take extra precautions to avoid heat-related illnesses.

The extreme temperatures impacted outdoor activities over the past weekend, as indicated by the number of people treated for heat-related illness at Saturday's Luke Bryan concert at Vanderbilt Stadium. Vanderbilt LifeFlight's Event Medicine team treated more than 300 people for illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke at Saturday's event alone, with 15 of those patients transported to the hospital for further treatment.

Due to the extreme heat and humidity, the number of patients treated for heat-related illness on Saturday afternoon and evening was greater than any single day of the CMA Music Festival or at Nashville's Fourth of July celebration downtown.

"Heat, humidity and lack of a breeze can spell trouble," said Corey Slovis, M.D., professor and chair of Emergency Medicine. "When the temperatures are this high, it's important to take frequent breaks and realize it's not a normal day. Go slower, do less. Try to wear lightweight clothing if you're going to be outside. Drink a lot more fluids, and if you're working, go slower."

Slovis added that alcohol can intensify the consequences of exposure to the heat and worsen dehydration, which can lead to impaired judgment and lack of recognition of the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion. Further, it can interfere with the body's ability to sweat, which is a natural cooling mechanism.

Doctors at Vanderbilt also want to stress the danger of leaving children unattended in cars. A child's body heats up three to five times faster than an adult's, and when the body's temperature reaches 104 degrees, the internal organs begin to shut down. Children are placed at extreme risk for severe hyperthermia and heat stroke in just minutes.

And don't forget about your four-legged friends, either. Slovis said dogs are affected even more than humans in really hot weather and should not be out running during the hottest parts of the day.

"A dog's first signs of heat-related illness may be collapse, seizure or death," Slovis said. "They get sick quickly, and the subtle signs of heat illness may not be obvious until it's too late."

Dogs should be rapidly cooled by getting them out of the heat and putting them in a cool, air conditioned area. If possible, run water from a garden hose over more severely affected dogs, and get them to a veterinarian if they do not return to normal or are worsening.

Avoid heat-related illness by taking these precautions:

  • Avoid intense outdoor activity from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the hottest part of the day.
  • Rest frequently in the shade when outdoors.
  • Wear light-colored and lightweight clothing.
  • Cover up - wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen of 15 SPF or greater.
  • Drink water, even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Remember children and dogs are more sensitive to heat than adults.

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