Tips to Avoid Heat Illness

What is heat illness? Something you definitely don’t want. Characterized by confusion that can lead to a coma, fast pulse, heart failure or kidney failure, heat illness can occur when the body temperature approaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity is greater than 70%. Once the humidity is high, sweating becomes less effective at reducing body heat and the core body temperature begins to rise.

Are you at risk?

The very young and the very old are most susceptible to heat illness. If left unattended in a car or enclosed area without cooling, their body temperatures can rise very quickly. The elderly frequently have concurrent heart disease, take medication that can lead to dehydration, and may live in enclosed environments that are not cooled. Teenage athletes can also be very prone to heat illness in the summer months when training for high-performance sports. Finally, obesity, alcohol abuse, and the use of psychiatric drugs all predispose to heat illness.

How do I prevent it?

If you know someone with these risk factors for heat illness, you must take special precautions. Never leave children (or pets) in a closed automobile or warm closed environment for any length of time. This is a leading cause of death in children (and pets) in the summertime. Check on the elderly frequently and if possible make sure they have access to cooling measures. A mist bottle with a fan can be very effective. Avoid diuretics and alcohol in older individuals with no access to cooling. Take them to cooling shelters. Provide them with plenty of liquids and ice to stay cool and well hydrated. Open windows and install fans if they do not have cooling in living areas.

What happens to the kidneys with heat illness?

Body temperatures more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit will cause significant problems for the kidneys. Dehydration will lead to low blood pressure and decreased kidney function. Many metabolic systems start to shut down in response to heat illness and result in a decline in kidney function. There is break down of muscle tissue that results in kidney failure from something known as myoglobinuric kidney failure. Finally, heart failure and shock can lead to kidney failure during episodes of severe heat stroke. Avoid the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as Motrin, Ibuprofen, Advil, or Aleve during exposure to heated environments as this can lead to acute kidney failure.

What if I suspect heat illness?

If you see someone who is warm and confused or delirious, not making any urine, and especially if they have increased heart beat and are breathing rapidly, you must get them to a cooler environment and call 911. Use a fan, ice or cooling mist, if possible, and apply it to the head and neck. Remove clothing. If the person is unconscious or poorly responsive, do not offer any oral liquids because it might induce pneumonia. An ice bath may also be used in the most extreme circumstance, but it is best to call emergency services to assist with someone having difficulty with breathing.

For more information about kidney failure, visit www.kidney.org.

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