Paramedics: Common misconceptions leading to heat-related illnesses

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Local paramedics said they often respond to heat-related illnesses during the summer months.

While East Tennessee isn’t experiencing the triple-digit temperatures like many states across the country, Tennesseans are still experiencing 90-degree weather.

AJ Spoone, a paramedic and senior firefighter with the Knoxville Fire Department, said someone can overheat in 70-degree weather.

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“The way East Tennessee is, we are constantly having to battle that heat and humidity here. So (as paramedics) we’re going to look for things like flushed skin or we’re going start sweating profusely. We’ll notice that we’ll be extremely thirsty,” Spoone said.

After 10 minutes of standing outside in a bay at the fire station, Spoone had to wipe off sweat on his forehead.

Overheating can happen quickly

He said it could take as little as 30 minutes to an hour for someone to overheat if they didn’t take precautions.

“The biggest misconception that I think people have is it’s not going to happen to me. They think ‘I can drink one bottle of water and I’m fine,'” Spoone said.

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He said people also think that going out earlier or later in the day, when the sun isn’t as brutal, will prevent them from experiencing heat exhaustion.

What are heat-related illnesses?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heat-related illnesses include heat rash, sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heavy sweating, clammy skin, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, fast or weak pulse are a few signs of heat-related illnesses, according to the CDC.

Leah Cohenour, clinical education specialist with American Medical Response, said the first sign of heat-related illnesses is extreme sweating.

If not treated quick enough, the symptoms will progress and the body starts to shut down, Cohenour said.

“Usually you’ve been out an you start to get weak, dizzy, kind of nauseated, stuff like that. That’s a good indication that you’re starting to exhibit signs of heat exhaustion and should probably get out of the sun for a while. If you get down to the point and you’re not sweating anymore, then it’s a true emergency and we would definitely need to intervene,” Cohenour said.

She said a typical heat-related illness call will take them to a sporting event, such as a kid’s baseball game.

Drink plenty of fluids

Both Cohenour and Spoone said the key is to drink plenty of fluids and take several breaks out of the sun so the body cools off.

If someone starts to experience symptoms, the first action to take is to move into a cooler space or under shade. Once out of the sun, drink plenty of water.

Cohenour said people need to pay attention to the fluids they use to relieve dehydration.

“The biggest misconception is probably what to take in to replace what you lost as far as fluid and electrolytes goes. So coffee, soft drinks, anything like that,” she said.

Sports drinks often loaded with sugar

Spoone said people need to be careful about how much they drink when it comes to sports drinks with electrolytes.

He said those drinks are typically loaded with sugar, so people should drink more water with a little bit of sports drinks to get the electrolytes.

If anyone is outside and needs a place to cool down, or if their air conditioning broke and needed a break from their hot home, they can visit a cooling center.

Several cooling centers are available throughout the city. Click here to find the closest location.

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