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By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
One of the benefits of living in Pacific Palisades is that almost all year long, the weather stays nice. But for those days that high heat is expected or when traveling to areas that are hotter overall without acclimatizing, it is important to be mindful of the signs and symptoms of heatstroke and heat-related illness.
Los Angeles County Public Health encouraged all Angelenos to take precautions to avoid heat-related illness, “especially older adults, young children, outdoor workers, athletes and people with a chronic medical condition who are especially sensitive to negative health impacts from extreme heat.”
During high temperature days, Public Health recommended that people drink plenty of water throughout the day and stay hydrated, avoid going out during the hottest hours and wear sunscreen, wear lightweight, light-colored clothes, and wear a hat or use an umbrella.
“Cars get very hot,” Public Health cautioned. “Never leave children or pets in cars, and call 911 if you see a child or pet in a car alone.”
When it comes to recognizing the signs of heatstroke, Public Health explained that is important to reach out to emergency services if a person has a high body temperature, vomiting, and pale and clammy skin.
Additional signs of heatstroke to watch out for include: altered mental state or behavior, alteration in sweating, nausea, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate and headache, according to Mayo Clinic.
“While it is very important that everyone take special care of themselves, it is equally important that we reach out and check on others, in particular those who are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of high temperatures, including children, the elderly and their pets,” said Muntu Davis, MD, MPH, Los Angeles County Health Officer, in a statement. “High temperatures are not just an inconvenience, they can be dangerous and even deadly. But we can protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors if we take steps to remain cool and hydrated.”
Davis reported that it is “critically important” to “never leave children, elderly people or pets unattended in homes with no air conditioning and particularly in vehicles.” This also applies when the windows are cracked or open, because temperatures inside can quickly rise to life-threatening levels.
“If you have an elderly or infirm neighbor who is without air conditioning, check on them throughout the day,” Davis added.
In addition to hydrating and avoiding the hottest times of the day, Dr. Jennifer Logan with the Palisades office of UCLA Health explained, it is helpful to get regular exercise so that your body is less sensitive to the extra exertion when it is warm outside.
“Exercising early in the morning, and hydrating well the day before, are the easiest solutions to avoiding the heat of the day,” Logan added for those who wish to exercise outdoors.
She explained that either water or a beverage like Gatorade or Pedialyte are all good options to stay hydrated, but recommended to watch sugar intake and make sure healthy snacks are being consumed to maintain energy levels.
“If you faint, or experience persistent vomiting, light headedness or fever,” Logan said, “it is important to see your doctor to rule out problems such as an electrolyte imbalance.”
Dr. Damon Raskin, a board-certified practitioner of internal medicine, emphasized the importance of being able to distinguish between heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
“It’s sort of a continuum where heat exhaustion happens before heatstroke,” Raskin explained. “Heatstroke is a true emergency where you have to call 911, heat exhaustion can be reversed.”
Symptoms of heat exhaustion are similar to those of heatstroke, but may appear a little less extreme, like headaches, light headedness and muscle cramps. At this point, the person may be sweating, but if a situation progresses to heatstroke, they often stop sweating as their body starts to turn off.
When it comes to children, UCLA Health’s Dr. Bernard Katz shared that a sign of heat-related illness may be that they appear confused, fatigued or lethargic.
“They may complain of abdominal pain or muscle cramps,” Katz said. “They may also appear flushed. In extreme cases they may not produce sweat when sweating would be expected.”
The child should be removed from the heat and sun, placed in a cool area where they can sit calmly, and be given cool fluids to drink—especially electrolyte solutions and sports drinks.
“When a child appears confused, disoriented or becomes unresponsive then it is urgent to seek medical care,” Katz said. “Sometimes children suffering heatstroke need to be provided with intravenous hydration.”
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heatstroke and heat-related illness and knowing when to seek emergency services will help keep community members safe, all year round.
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