Heat-Related Illnesses of Summer
Heat Rash, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke
Heat-related illnesses usually occur in both children and adults when the body’s natural cooling system (sweat), begins to fail, allowing internal heat to build up to seriously elevated levels. This situation may bring on one or more of the related illness: heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Typically referred to as “prickly heat,” heat rash is reddish, little bumps that appear on the surface of an infant’s skin typically when a little one is overheated. “Heat rash results from obstruction of the sweat glands in the skin when they are very active during periods of extreme heat. Sweat leaks into the surrounding tissue and causes inflammation and redness,” explains Dr. Wible. Although heat rash is frequently found during the humid days of summer, you might also notice it appear on your baby’s skin during winter if your baby is wearing too many layers of clothing. Upon diagnosis by your pediatrician/primary care physician, general treatment may include, “cool baths without soap, letting the skin air dry, and dressing your child in a diaper only or in as few, lighter clothes as possible. Use a fan, though make sure that it is always out of your child’s reach when they are sleeping,” advises Joyce Allers, RN, Manager of Illness Prevention for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia. Heat rash is not serious, but it is a sign that your child is too warm, and if left unnoticed, can lead into heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion often come on suddenly, with heavy perspiration, nausea, a pale or ashen skin tone, and rapid heartbeat. Heat exhaustion “is usually related to mild dehydration and sodium depletion. It can also lead to fainting,” says Dr. Wible. If the person suffering from heat exhaustion does not get the appropriate medical assistance, heat exhaustion can quickly turn into heat stroke.
Heat stroke is the most serious of the heat-related illnesses and it happens when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. “If heat exhaustion is allowed to progress, it can result in heat stroke, which is accompanied by severe thermal deregulation, dehydration, and major disruption of the body’s metabolism. The individual’s temperature may exceed 106 degrees Fahrenheit and they are usually in a state of circulatory collapse or shock,” explains Dr. Wible.
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