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Stay hydrated on these hot days
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Now that the summertime temperatures in the Central Valley are consistently reaching into the 100's, we must be mindful of the threat of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. People spend more time outdoors during this time of the year, which exposes them to lots of sun and heat. People who are significantly overweight have diabetes, or other medical problems are particularly at a higher risk. Those who live without air conditioning may, over the course of several days of exposure to high heat without relief, may also be vulnerable.

Heat stroke is the more serious medical condition which is caused by too much exposure to heat without sufficient hydration. Symptoms include a very high body temperature (104 degrees or greater), very hot and dry skin, the victim may suffer from convulsions and they potentially may lose consciousness. Heat stroke can come on quickly and without warning. Death from heat stroke is a real possibility, as is damage to the brain and other organs.

Heat exhaustion, while not as life-threatening as heat stroke, still poses a serious medical risk and cannot be treated lightly or ignored. The symptoms can include cool, clammy skin, sweating, dry mouth, thirst, fatigue and weakness, headache, cramps, weak or rapid pulse and slightly higher than normal body temperature. If not attended to, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

Hydration is important to avoiding heat stroke or heat exhaustion. But hydration alone may not be enough. Constant, profuse sweating tends to deplete the body of important electrolytes, so while drinking water helps greatly, eating properly and consuming electrolyte replacements will also help. Drinks with lots of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine should be avoided. A rule of thumb I have learned over the years is that once you become thirsty, you are already behind the dehydration "curve." In other words, you should be drinking water frequently throughout the day - not only when you are feeling thirsty. When performing hard, physical labor or when in direct exposure to the sun and heat, the need for drinking water is greatly increased.

To treat for heat exhaustion, first make sure the patient's condition is not heat stroke (the more serious emergency). If you believe it is only heat exhaustion, then take the following steps: move the person to a cool, shaded environment and have them lie flat. Give them plenty of water, a diluted sports drink or, preferably, a non-sweetened electrolyte product such as the kind available for infants. Water is the most important and safest first step in treating heat exhaustion. Remove excess clothing (shoes and hats retain a lot of body heat), cool the person down with wet cloths, fan the person if necessary, and take the person's body temperature frequently. If the body temperature nears or exceeds 104 degrees, you have to assume that it is a heat stroke situation, which requires emergency transportation to the hospital. Do not give the person any alcoholic beverages!

The initial treatment of heat stroke is essentially the same as treatment for heat exhaustion, except that the cool down steps need to be more aggressive. While waiting for emergency medical responders, if possible, immerse the patient in cool water, place ice packs on the patient's head, back of the neck, armpits, soles of their feet and groin area, and give them plenty of water to drink. The person must be able to drink the water on their own - if they are unconscious or semi-conscious, do not try to administer any water.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can come on quickly and without apparent warning, so the best way to avoid these conditions is through prevention. Do not allow yourself to become overheated, drink plenty of fluids even when you do not feel thirsty, dress with loose-fitting, light-colored clothing, and if laboring under the sun, take frequent breaks and stay away from sugars and alcohol.