Last week’s high heat in Boston provides a reminder of the dangers that summer can bring. Cooler temperatures this week means a reduced need for air conditioning, and also provides the opportunity to do scheduled maintenance and repairs on units that may not be working at peak efficiency.
For some people, air conditioning is more than a convenience; at extreme temperatures, it can be a necessity! In many cases, heat-related illnesses occur outdoors and come on suddenly, but they can also occur indoors or when a person moves from a cool, indoor space to a hot, outdoor environment. Children and elderly persons are exceptionally vulnerable, as are people who work outside during the summer. High heat brings along several dangers that people ought to know about, including heat cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Heat cramps occur as the result of extreme physical exertion in high temperatures. These painful muscle spasms typically occur in a person’s arms, legs and abdomen. Someone suffering from heat cramps may also sweat profusely and become extremely thirsty. Heat cramps usually precede a more dangerous condition called heat exhaustion. Persons suffering from heat cramps should be moved immediately to a cool location, and given fluids, salty foods and/or sports drinks.
Excessive heat can also cause fainting among people who are not acclimated to the temperature. Fainting may also occur among people who stand out in the sun for long periods of time. For the outside observer, it is difficult to tell the difference between a fainting episode caused by excessive heat and heat stroke. A person who faints as a result of the heat requires immediate medical attention. The person, whether conscious or not, should be moved to a cool location immediately and cooled by any method available, including immersion in cool or cold water, if the victim can be managed safely. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number for medical assistance immediately.
Heat exhaustion is the precursor to heat stroke and requires immediate medical treatment. It is a serious medical emergency! Signs of heat stroke include profuse or excessive sweating; skin that is cool and clammy to the touch and pale in appearance; weakness and fatigue; dizziness, nausea and vomiting; a weak rapid pulse and mild neurological symptoms like headaches, confusion, poor decision-making, and anxiety. If untreated, heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke, which can cause death.
To provide initial treatment for heat exhaustion, move the victim to a cool place immediately. Remove clothing to expose bare skin. Cool the victim by soaking or spraying them with water, immersing them in water if possible, or applying wet cloths to their skin. Provide water or sports drinks to replace body fluids lost to sweating, and call 9-1-1. A person suffering from heat exhaustion should be evaluated by and treated by medical personnel.
The most serious heat-related condition is called heat stroke. Heat stroke can affect anyone and can result in death. When heat stroke occurs, a person’s body can no longer regulate its internal temperature, and the person stops sweating. The inability to sweat allows the victim’s body’s temperature to rise dangerously high.
Heat stroke is likely if a person’s body temperature rises above 104° and the person displays symptoms of heat exhaustion. In addition, a heat stroke victim may become aggressive, irrational, psychotic, violent or incoherent. The victim’s skin will be hot to the touch and the person may appear flushed. In the later stages of heat stroke, the victim will lose consciousness, and internal organs may begin to fail.
If you suspect heat stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Move the victim to a cooler location and immerse the person in cold water, or spray the entire body with water, if you are outside and a hose is available. Apply ice to the skin, if ice is available. Hydrate the victim if the victim is conscious or regains consciousness during initial treatment. A person who has suffered heat stroke must be taken to a medical facility for further evaluation and treatment.
High heat can be extremely dangerous. Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating offers 24/7 heating and cooling services, and can often repair non-functional air conditioning units in a single trip. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime to schedule an appointment or request an emergency repair.
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