Record high temperatures are baking Georgia. How to stay safe in the sweltering heat

·4 min read

The state health department is warning Georgians about staying safe in extreme heat with temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s this week.

Georgians should avoid prolonged exposure to the heat and sun and limit strenuous outdoor activities to prevent heat related illnesses, according to a release by DPH. These illnesses have the potential to be serious, said Dr. Siraj Abdullah, a Piedmont physician who specializes in family and sports medicine.

Dr. Siraj Abdullah spoke to the Ledger-Enquirer about heat related illnesses as temperatures soar in June.
Dr. Siraj Abdullah spoke to the Ledger-Enquirer about heat related illnesses as temperatures soar in June.

At minimum, these illnesses can result in muscle cramps, Abdullah said, but can progress to a life-threatening heat stroke with multi-organ failure and require hospitalization. Heat-related illnesses are preventable most of the time, he said. But more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year, according to the CDC.

Signs of heat-related illnesses

Heat-related illnesses can progress from mild to severe symptoms depending on the activity a person is doing as well as the temperature outside, Abdullah said.

“Parents, caregivers and coaches should know the signs and symptoms of HRI and take immediate action to prevent this from progressing,” he said.

Early signs of mild illness include:

  • Extremity swelling

  • Occasional facial flushing

  • Exercise-associated muscle cramps or spasms

  • Red papules, which are small red bumps on the skin

Moderate signs are often referred to as heat syncope, Abdullah said, and include feelings of lightheadedness, dizziness and brief loss of consciousness immediately after stopping activity.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include:

  • Thirst

  • Headaches

  • Tachycardia (increased heart beat)

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Cold, clammy skin

  • Core temperature of 101℉ to 104℉

Severe symptoms include a change in mental status, seizures, coma, tachycardia, hypertension (low blood pressure) and a core temperature of 105℉.

What to do if someone has signs of heat-related illnesses

Recognizing the early signs of illnesses and taking measures to cool off will prevent symptoms from progressing, Abdullah said.

If a person has mild symptoms, it’s important for individuals to get out of the heat, elevate their legs, hydrate with water or a sports drink that has electrolytes and remove clothing, if possible. A cool towel or material should also be placed on the individual.

Call 911 if symptoms progress to the moderate level to include heat syncope, tachycardia, dizziness, the individual doesn’t respond to oral hydration or previously mentioned interventions or a change in mental status, Abdullah said.

If someone has significant cardiac risk factors, 911 should be called.

Who is at a higher risk of heat-related illnesses?

There are a number of reasons that a person can be at a higher risk of developing a heat-related illness. Children who are younger than 15 years old and individuals older than 65 can be at a higher risk of illness, Abdullah said.

Someone who has lost physical strength because of illness, injury or lack of physical activity is more likely to develop an illness, he said, as well as people who have not adjusted to the heat or lack adequate sleep.

Certain medical conditions including heart problems, diabetes and previous heat injuries — elevate the chances of developing an illness, Abdullah said. Alcohol, illicit drugs and certain medications, such as diuretics and antidepressants, will also increase the risk.

“Those individuals who are required to be in the heat for extended periods of time should progressively extend the time they are in the heat,” he said. “Athletic teams should attempt to schedule their practice during the cooler part of the day.”

Teams and individuals should gradually increase the amount of time outside for one to two weeks, he said. When temperatures rise about 89℉, the chances of people developing-heat related illnesses rise.

During times of extreme heat, people should wear cool, light clothing and stay hydrated not only when they are outside, but also before and after activities, Abdullah said. If someone has suffered from heat exhaustion or a heat stroke and recovered, they should refrain from exercising for at least one week, and see their physician before returning to activity, he said.

“Always lock your cars to prevent young children from getting locked in the car,” Abdullah said. “And double check to make sure you are not leaving your infant or child in the car.”