Student Health discusses heat-related illness, health reminders

Students are recommended to know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat can add stress to the heart, which can be particularly harmful for people with cardiovascular disease, Student Health said. (Emma Silverstein / Daily Trojan)

As Southern California prepares for high summer temperatures, Student Health recommends students be aware of summer health risks — including heat-related illnesses.

Temperature changes can increase sensitivity to heat exposure, Chief Campus Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman said in a briefing with the Daily Trojan on June 12.

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“One of the periods of greatest risk [for heat-related illness] is when we go from a period of relatively cool weather to much hotter weather,” Van Orman said. “Physiologically, our fluid balance [regulation by] our kidneys takes about two weeks to fully acclimate to a hot climate.”

Underlying medical conditions and health risk factors can exacerbate effects of heat stress, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses. Heat can add stress to the heart, which can be particularly harmful for people with cardiovascular disease.

“Health conditions and … some common medications can affect people’s ability to manage the heat,” Van Orman said. “So, those people need to be very aware.”

Vulnerable populations may include older adults; people with heart, lung, or kidney disease; and those taking certain medications.

Medications can affect thermoregulation, the ability to regulate internal body temperature. Antihistamines, for example, can slow sweat production — the body’s physiological mechanism to cool down.

Signs of heat exhaustion include nausea, headaches, dizziness and lightheadedness, Van Orman said. Individuals who experience symptoms are urged to stop physical activity, cool down in a shaded area and hydrate.

However, heat stroke — the most serious form of heat illness — requires immediate medical attention.

“Heat stroke is when your body temperature rises: the heat outside has really exceeded your body’s ability to cool itself,” Van Orman said. “People who are experiencing heat stroke might be confused [or] appear disoriented. They appear red; their skin is not sweating anymore — it’s hot and dry.”

Symptoms of heat stroke include high heart rate, rapid breathing, nausea, headache, confusion, redness, dry skin and high body temperature.

“If you think or have concerns that someone you’re with has heat stroke … immediately get them to a cool, shaded area. If you have ice or water, begin applying that,” Van Orman said. “And call for emergency medical services — that is really a medical emergency.”

Preventive measures can reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses, Van Orman said, recommending students stay hydrated, wear light-colored clothing and a hat, take breaks in shaded spaces, and limit time in sun during peak hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“Sometimes heat exhaustion can develop over a period of a few days,” Van Orman said, “so even spending a few hours in cool air conditioning can make a difference.”

The City of Los Angeles operates air-conditioned cooling centers open to the public, Van Orman said, and students may also consider visiting malls or libraries for AC.

Heat and health information can be found on public health department websites, providing health education resources, high temperature notices and heat illness cases data.

“If you see a warning about a heat wave, just be aware that … there is definitely going to be increased risk [of heat-related illness] during the period of that [environmental] change,” Van Orman said.

For more information, Student Health provides educational resources about the symptoms of heat-related illness, risk factors and prevention.

Heat illness can affect anyone — and students are encouraged to learn preventive health practices for summer risks, heat advisories and sun exposures.

“If you’re somewhere hiking, outdoors, around water or at a beach, [be] aware of the water conditions,” Van Orman said. “Wear your sun protection every day, your hat [and] SPF clothing to protect your skin from the sun.”

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