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Stay Safe in the Heat with Tips from Atrium Health Navicent

Man sweating and drinking water.

As temperatures begin to soar, it is important to remember that summertime in the Southeast means everyone is at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Atrium Health Navicent physicians urge individuals of all ages to be mindful of heat-related illnesses that can be prevented with proper caution and care, especially when exercising outside.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1,220 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year. In 2023, there were 119,605 emergency department visits due to heat. That number is considerably higher than in previous years. The summer of 2023 was Earth’s hottest since global records began in 1880, according to scientists at NASA. Above-average temperatures are forecast for 2024.

 

Five types of heat illness:

There are five different types of illness a person may experience due to heat. While a heat rash or cramps are not severe or life-threatening, both can quickly develop into dangerous and deadly conditions.

  1. Heat rash occurs when sweat glands become clogged. To treat, move to a cooler location and hydrate.

  2. Heat cramps occur when a person loses electrolytes through heavy sweating, causing painful muscle cramps. To treat, move to a cooler location and hydrate.

  3. Heat syncope is a sudden loss of blood flow to the brain due to the dilation of the blood vessels to cool the body. This can lead to fainting. To treat, lie down in a cool place, remove any excess clothing, hydrate (as long as the person is not feeling sick to the stomach) and call for help.

  4. Heat exhaustion is a more serious heat-related illness that stems from decreased salt and water in the bloodstream. Symptoms include heavy sweating; weakness or tiredness; cool, pale, clammy skin; fast or weak pulse; muscle cramps; dizziness; nausea or vomiting; headache; or fainting. At the first sign of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat, rest and drink water, and call for help.

  5. Heatstroke is a true medical emergency in which the body becomes overheated due prolonged exposure to heat. The person may display mental confusion; red, dry skin; stoppage of sweating; or decreased consciousness. Anyone experiencing heatstroke is having a medical emergency, and 911 should be called immediately. In addition to removing the person from the hot environment and rehydrating them if possible, the person’s clothes should be removed down to their undergarments, and they should be cooled by any means necessary.


“Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles, and possibly lead to death. To help prevent heat stroke and even minor heat-related illnesses, limit the amount of time you spend in the heat until you get used to it. Drink fluids before you go outside and carry fluids with you, especially if you are exercising outside. Start slowly and take the time to get acclimated to the temperature and humidity that day,” said Dr. Timothy Longaker, an Atrium Health Navicent urgent care provider.

 

Frequently, the people most at risk for heat-related illness are young people, who have plenty of energy and don’t notice that they are having a problem until it’s too late, and older people, whose bodies can’t compensate for the heat or who may have underlying medical problems. Even for people who are used to exercising or working outside, heat exhaustion can sneak up quickly when high temperatures and high humidity collide.

 

Tips to prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Remain indoors during the hottest parts of the day, generally 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking water and sports drinks, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

  • Wear proper clothing in the heat. Good options include loose-fitting clothing, which allows perspiration to evaporate, and light colors, which reflect the sun’s rays. Wear a wide-brimmed hat so that your head and face are shaded from the sun.

  • Reduce outdoor exercise during high temperatures, and consider exercising during the early morning when temperatures are cooler.

  • Take frequent breaks inside or in a shady spot.

  • Wear sunscreen to prevent sunburns, which can raise body temperature.

  • Don’t leave children or the elderly unattended in hot cars, even for short periods of time.

  • Monitor yourself and your family for any signs of heat exhaustion. If you are feeling overheated or a loved-one is behaving oddly, speak up!

 

“With minor changes to your plans, like heading out earlier, packing a cooler with cold water or taking frequent breaks in the shade, you can help to combat heat-related illness,” Longaker said. “If you are feeling overheated or a loved-one is behaving oddly, speak up! It could save their life!”

 

If heat-related illness does occur, seek appropriate medical treatment. For emergency situations, call 911 or seek care at the nearest emergency center. Atrium Health Navicent offers emergency care at the following locations:

  • Atrium Health Navicent The Medical Center (770 Pine St., Macon)

  • Atrium Health Levine Children’s Beverly Knight Olson Children's Hospital (888 Pine St., Macon)

  • Atrium Health Navicent Peach (1960 Hwy 247 Connector, Byron)

  • Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin (821 North Cobb St., Milledgeville)

  • Putnam General Hospital, Atrium Health Navicent Partner (101 Greensboro Road, Eatonton)

 

For non-life-threatening injuries, visit your nearest urgent care provider. Atrium Health Navicent provides urgent care at three Macon locations:

  • Atrium Health Navicent Urgent Care North (3400 Riverside Drive, Macon)

  • Atrium Health Navicent Urgent Care East (1339 Gray Highway, Macon)

  • Atrium Health Navicent Urgent Care Northwest (5925 Zebulon Road, Macon)

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