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July 12, 2012 Volume 33, No. 34

Hot weather means taking precautions to avoid heat-related illness

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COOLING OFF To help beat the triple-digit temperatures, MU graduate student Meredith Dorneker purchased a cup of ice cream from a Buck’s cart on June 28 from senior Jamill Teter. Buck’s Ice Cream Place has two carts operating across campus this summer. Nicholas Benner photo


Cramps, dizziness, rapid pulse are signs of heat sickness

During the recent triple-digit heat spell, the campus community sought relief mostly by staying indoors. Some people braved the outdoors using umbrellas as a sun shield, or by grabbing a cold treat from a Buck’s Ice Cream Place cart.

It’s not over yet. July and August are expected to be hotter than normal, weather forecasters say.

As a result, Columbians need to take precautions when outside in the heat, said Steve Ball, MU associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology.

“Heat illness is the result of the body’s inability to adjust to the increase in body temperature,” Ball said. “When it’s especially hot or humid, bodies sweat more than usual, and people become dehydrated and suffer other symptoms of heat illness.”

Ball identified the stages of heat illness:

• Heat cramps, the first sign of heat illness, are involuntary muscle spasms that can occur during or following physical exertion and generally result from an electrolyte imbalance due to perspiration and excessive loss of salts.

• Heat exhaustion is a more serious state of heat illness. Its symptoms can be excessive sweating; cold, clammy skin; normal or slightly elevated body temperature; paleness; dizziness; weak yet rapid pulse; shallow breathing; nausea; and headache.

• Heat stroke, the most advanced stage of heat illness, occurs when the body is unable to cool itself. Symptoms of heat stroke can include cessation of sweating, skin that appears dry and hot, rapid pulse, and difficulty breathing.

People with heat cramps and heat exhaustion should drink a lot of water, reduce the level of intensity of their activity and seek shade. 

Those suffering from heat stroke need immediate medical attention. They can be cooled by raising the feet, removing clothing, being submerged in cold water, being wrapped in wet sheets or having ice packs applied.

Adults also need to keep an eye on children during the dog days of summer.

“Kids are more at risk for overheating because they don’t sweat as much and produce more body heat than adults while exercising,” Ball said. “Kids also don’t recognize the early warning signs of heat illness, so it’s especially important that adults remain vigilant about watching for and reacting to symptoms early on.”

Ball said the most effective way to manage heat illness is to prevent it. 

He offers these suggestions:

• Drink water and other fluids before, during and after activities.

• Eat water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.

• Be aware of the temperature and humidity so your expenditure is weather appropriate.

• Take frequent breaks to cool off the body.