Cold weather kills 20 times as many people as hot weather, according to an international study analyzing over 74 million deaths in 384 locations across 13 countries. The findings also reveal that deaths due to moderately hot or cold weather substantially exceed those resulting from extreme heat waves or cold spells.
Most people take precautions to protect themselves in extreme weather conditions. Do people really understand that moderate heat or cold can be more dangerous?
June 1-7, 2015 is Sun Awareness Week in Canada and while most people think to protect themselves from sunburn they often forget to protect themselves from the heat.
Extreme heat can cause a variety of heat related illnesses from mild heat cramps to life-threatening heatstroke. If you work or play outdoors on hot days, make a plan to stay cool and hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages as they contribute to dehydration and keep plenty of water on hand.
How to Recognize and Treat Heat Illnesses
Heat Cramps – Heat cramps are painful muscle cramps, usually in the legs and abdomen that occur due to excessive sweating. Heat cramps can usually be reversed by drinking water or sports drinks. Give as much water to the affected person as he/she wants. If the cramps don’t go away seek medical help.
Heat Exhaustion – Heat exhaustion is a more serious condition where the individual affected has lost fluid due to excessive sweating. Signs of heat exhaustion include; excessive sweating, dilated pupils, dizziness, blurred vision, headaches or cramps, and signs of shock (cold clammy skin, weak, rapid pulse; rapid, shallow breathing, vomiting and unconsciousness).
If you suspect someone conscious is suffering from heat exhaustion call for medical help and give the individual water/sports drinks to drink. If the individual vomits discontinue fluids and seek medical help right away. Place the individual on his/her back in a cool place. Remove excessive clothing and loosen tight clothing at the neck and waist. Monitor breathing. If the individual is unconscious seek medical help immediately, place him/her in the recovery position and monitor his/her airway. Be prepared to administer CPR if necessary.
Heatstroke – Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition where the body’s temperature rises far above normal (40ºC or higher). Those affected by heatstroke will be hot to the touch, pulse will be rapid and full but will get weaker as the heatstroke progresses, breathing is noisy, skin is flushed and hot, the individual will be restless and may complain of headaches, fatigue, dizziness and nausea, vomiting, convulsions and unconsciousness may also occur. If you suspect someone is suffering from heatstroke seek medical help immediately.
It is of vital importance you lower the affected individual’s body temperature. Move the individual to a cool place. If possible submerge him/her in cold water up to his/her chin, protect his/her airway and monitor his/her condition for changes. If you cannot submerge the individual cover him/her with wet sheets and fan the sheets to help him/her cool off, or sponge the individual with cool water particularly in the armpits, neck and groin areas. When his/her body feels cool to the touch place the individual at rest, if the casualty is unconscious place him/her in the recover position, and give ongoing first aid until relieved by medical help.
Dianne Rende is the Executive Director of St. John Ambulance, Peel Dufferin Branch. As Canada’s leading authority in first aid, St. John Ambulance is dedicated to improving health and safety at work, at home and at play. Dianne can be reached by email at [email protected] or for more information visit www.sja.ca.