WEST SPRINGFIELD — While high heat and humidity are common in Massachusetts in the summer, they come with the risk of several heat-related illnesses, the most serious of which is heat stroke.
“The good news is that heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion and heat stroke, can be prevented,” said Dr. Vincent Meoli, regional medical director of American Family Care (AFC), with locations in Springfield and West Springfield. “However, it’s important to know the signs, as these conditions can accelerate quickly and result in permanent damage or even death.”
Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache and dizziness, fainting, cold and clammy skin, nausea, or a fast, weak pulse. “If you experience any of these signs, move to a cool place, loosen your clothing, and sip cool water,” Meoli said. “If possible, take a cool bath or shower or use cold, wet cloths to help cool down.”
If symptoms worsen, last longer than an hour, or include vomiting, seek medical help. Heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke, which can cause permanent damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles, or even death.
Heat stroke is characterized by a high body temperature over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, skin that is hot and flushed, a throbbing headache, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting, a racing pulse, and rapid breathing. Some people also experience seizures, slurred speech, delirium, and agitation.
“If someone experiences these symptoms, call 911 immediately and move them to a cooler place,” Meoli said. “If you can, try to lower their body temperature with cold, wet towels or a cool bath or shower. Do not give them anything to drink if their mental state is altered.”
Meoli stressed that heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate care to prevent lasting damage or death. “The outcome worsens the longer treatment is delayed, so it’s important to act quickly. Those most at risk include children, the elderly, and people who take medications that increase their sensitivity to heat; however, anyone can be affected under the right conditions.”