When the temperature goes up, so does the risk for heat-related illness. It’s important to know how to recognize and treat these illnesses, as well as know when it’s time to seek medical care. The most serious heat-related illness is heat stroke, where the body loses the ability to regulate temperature. This can quickly cause death or permanent disability if left untreated. Heat exhaustion is a result of losing too much water and salts. Though a more mild heat-related illness, it still should not be ignored. If untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. Emergency care is needed for heat stroke, but heat exhaustion can often be treated by cooling down and restoring fluids.
Another medical condition seen more commonly in summer is dehydration, which can range from mild to severe. It results from more fluids being lost than consumed. Dehydration can lead to many complications so it’s important to detect and treat it even though it may seem mild or commonplace. Treating dehydration involves simply replacing lost fluids and electrolytes. While mild to moderate dehydration can be treated at home, emergency treatment is necessary for severe dehydration. Notably, thirst is not a reliable indication of dehydration, especially for older adults. Dehydration begins well before thirst is felt.
A surprising 1 in 10 people experience a seizure during their lifetime, making it important to be aware of what they look like and how to react. There are many different types of seizures and symptoms can vary between types, ranging from staring at nothing to falling to the ground and shaking. Many seizures do not require emergency medical attention, so hold off calling emergency services unless the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes or there are other factors causing concern. You can’t stop a seizure and have to just let it run its course. Be sure to remove safety hazards and avoid restraining the person having a seizure.
Hypoglycemia, the medical term for low blood sugar, is when glucose levels in the blood are below normal (less than 70 mg/dL). Usually, this occurs in people who have type I diabetes or type II diabetes if they are taking insulin. Mild hypoglycemia is merely uncomfortable, but if blood sugar continues to drop the condition can take a serious turn. Untreated hypoglycemia starves the brain of glucose, leading first to cognitive symptoms and then to seizures, comas, and death. Mild episodes are treated by consuming carbohydrates, while more severe episodes require the hormone glucagon. Glucagon is carried by prescription by people at risk for low blood sugar. Severely low blood sugar may require emergency services, especially if glucagon is not available.
Abnormally high levels of blood glucose is called hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. This can happen if there is insufficient or ineffective insulin (a type of hormone from the pancreas) as may happen in type I or type II diabetes. Untreated hyperglycemia can result in a life-threatening condition called ketoacidosis. When insulin is absent and the body uses stored fats for fuel, ketones are produced. Ketones are a metabolic waste product. Ketoacidosis is when those ketones build up in the blood. This condition, marked by fruity breath, shortness of breath, nausea, and dry mouth, requires immediate medical treatment.
When plaque builds up in the artery walls, oxygen-rich blood is blocked from the heart, causing a heart attack. Every minute until treatment matters for heart attacks, so it is important to call emergency services as soon as one is suspected. Treating a heart attack quickly often improves the outcome. Chest pain is the most common symptom for all genders. Women are more likely to have non-traditional symptoms. Those symptoms can include pain in other parts of the upper body, shortness of breath, nausea, cold sweat, and lightheadedness.
When their body’s temperature drops below 95Â°F (35Â°C), a person has hypothermia. This means that their body is not producing heat as fast as they are losing it. Hypothermia most often occurs when there is cold weather or cold water. The body cannot function with too low a temperature, and organ failure and death can result. Emergency care is needed to prevent this. While waiting for emergency services, it is important not to offer caffeine or alcohol and to avoid using direct heat sources. Indirect heat, such as dry blankets, warm beverages, or warm compresses (on the neck, chest, or groin only), can be used.
During an asthma attack, the airways become constricted and excess mucus is produced in response to a trigger such as exercise, irritants, or allergies. This restricts breathing and oxygen delivered to the brain. An asthma attack can be a minor nuisance or a life-threatening event. Many people with asthma carry a quick-relief inhaler that will relieve symptoms. If used promptly when symptoms begin, the severity of the attack can often be reduced. However, if the inhaler is not helping or the person’s breathing is becoming rapidly worse, they require emergency treatment.
Stroke is the #5 cause of death for adults and a leading cause of disability. It occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, resulting in areas of cell death. Despite what many believe, stroke can happen to anyone at any time. Prompt treatment is key to reducing death and disability-1.9 million brain cells die per minute without treatment. The acronym FAST can help remember the signs of stroke: Face dropping? Arm weakness? Slurred speech? Time to call emergency services. Other symptoms can include confusion, trouble speaking, trouble seeing, severe headache, and trouble walking.
Although many people have an aversion to blood, it’s still important to know what to do if someone is bleeding heavily. Blood loss can be serious and even fatal. Calling emergency services is the first thing to do if it’s needed (for example, for artery wounds, which spurt blood). Then you must apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean compress in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Avoid pressing on embedded objects but do not remove them as this can lead to further blood loss.
Burns can be quite serious if severe. They are tissue damage from hot objects or liquids, electricity, or chemicals. Those that are deep, large, or in sensitive locations such as the face, hands, or genital area require emergency care. While waiting, remove tight items before swelling starts and cover the burn with gauze. During this time it’s also important to monitor their breathing and signs of shock. Minor burns, however, can be easily treated at home by running the wound under cool water for around 10 minutes. Then bandage loosely and treat pain with OTC pain relievers.
Broken bones, or fractures, always require medical treatment. Emergency care is necessary under certain circumstances. These include major trauma, unresponsiveness, bone protruding from the skin, heavy bleeding, deformed limbs or joints, and fractures in the neck, back, or head, among other situations. Avoid moving the injured person as much as possible and try to prevent them from moving the injury. Never try to align the bone yourself; instead, wait for medical care. Ice packs can be used to relieve pain and swelling.
The immune system is integral in preventing and fighting illness. Sometimes, however, it overreacts to certain triggers-nuts and bee stings are two very common ones. Anaphylaxis is such a reaction, and it can become deadly in as little as half an hour. Calling emergency services at the first sign of symptoms is imperative. People with a history of anaphylaxis usually carry an epinephrine autoinjector, sometimes known as an EpiPen. The person experiencing anaphylaxis or someone nearby who knows how to use it should inject it immediately, usually into the thigh. Common symptoms are swelling, contricted airways, a fast heartrate, and lightheadness or dizziness.
Choking occurs when the airway is blocked by an object, obstructing breathing and starving the brain of oxygen. Someone who is choking may clutch their throat, struggle to breathe, appear panicked, and be unable to speak. Coughing may fix the problem, but if not, action must be taken to save the person’s life. Once they can no longer talk or cough, begin with 5 back blows. If unsuccessful, follow with five abdominal thrusts (the Heimlich maneuver). Calling emergency services may be necessary, and if the person loses consciousness then CPR is needed. If you have an additional person with you, have them call emergency services while you try to perform these maneuvers.
An unfortunate encounter with a snake can result in being bitten and injected with venom. The symptoms and severity vary by species of snake. Many myths surround the correct way to treat this type of injury. Sucking out the venom, cutting the wound, and applying a tourniquet should all be avoided. Nor should alcohol, pain reliever, or ice be used. The appropriate treatment is antivenom administered by a medical professional. Waiting for symptoms to begin before seeking medical attention is also not advised-the venom can spread and do damage quickly. And while identification of the snake is helpful, do not ever try to handle the snake, even if it’s dead. Instead, take a picture from a distance.
Aneurysms are created when an artery wall weakens and widens. While they can occur in any artery, they are most common in the aortic (heart to the body), cerebral (brain), popliteal (at the back of the knee), mesenteric (to the intestine), and splenic (to the spleen) arteries. They may cause no symptoms until they suddenly burst-a terrifying prospect for many. Fortunately, though, most never rupture. Once ruptured, however, they are life-threatening and require emergency treatment. To spot a burst aneurysm, look for headache, pain, dizziness, confusion, vision changes, and a sense of impending doom. A sudden severe headache can indicate a leaking aneurysm, which usually ruptures later. Prompt action is needed to avoid death or brain damage.
Concussions, also called mild traumatic brain injuries, are caused by blows to the head or violent movement of the upper body. Even minor concussions require medical attention, and severe concussions may need emergency medical care. Losing consciousness for more than 30 seconds, a ringing in the ears that doesn’t fade, a headache that becomes worse, and any other obvious serious symptoms are all signs that emergency care is needed. If there is bleeding in the brain, the condition is very serious and potentially deadly. In contrast to a popular myth, sleeping after getting a concussion is okay, but the person may need to be woken regularly.
The top layer of skin, called the epidermis, has 3 types of cells: squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. Squamous cells are thin cells on the surface of the skin, while basal cells are round cells below those and melanocytes produce pigments. Fortunately, squamous cell and basal cell cancers are both the most common types of skin cancer and highly treatable. Melanoma, skin cancer starting in the melanocytes, is more likely to be deadly. The ABCDE rule for moles makes it easy to detect melanoma early, thus leading to early treatment and better outcomes. Asymmetry, jagged or irregular borders, uneven color, diameter larger than a pea, or evolving/changing moles can all be signs of melanoma and should be checked by a doctor.
A leading cause of death for children, drowning is when respiratory impairment occurs as a result of being in water or another liquid. It can result in death, serious disability, or, in contrast, no injury. If water is involved, children should always be supervised-they can drown in as little as 1 inch of water. And in contrast to the movies, drowning happens quickly and quietly. It’s important to remember that although children are at the greatest risk, anyone can drown. If someone is drowning, call emergency services and get a lifeguard if there is one. Move the person out of the water and check for breathing and a pulse. If there is none, CPR is needed.
By now, we are all familiar with COVID-19, the highly infectious illness that has disrupted many lives and taken many others. But do you know what signs indicate someone with this illness needs emergency medical care? Many cases may be mild, but there is still the risk of serious illness or even death. Emergency symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure, confusion, can’t stay awake, or pale, gray, or blue skin, lips, or nail beds. The best treatment is, of course, prevention via masking, vaccinations, social distancing, isolating if ill, and avoiding those who are ill.
Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix, a small pouch off of the colon. It’s treated by removing the appendix entirely. Although it can happen to anyone, it’s most common in people who are 10 to 30 years old. The main symptom is pain in the lower right abdomen that becomes more severe. This pain may alos begin near the navel and then move. Nausea, fever, flatulence, bloating, and constipation or diarrhea are also symptoms of appendicitis. Untreated appendicitis can lead to the appendix rupturing, which can be fatal.
Fever, an increase in body temperature, is a normal part of the body’s immune response. An oral temperature of 100Â°F (37.8Â°C) or higher qualifies as a fever. Although most fevers are mild and only uncomfortable for a few days, they can also rise to dangerous levels. Infants with fevers may have a serious infection and should be taken to the hospital. Children are usually fine if they are alert, no other worrisome symptoms are present, and the fever doesn’t last more than three days. For adults, a fever greater than 103Â°F (39.4Â°C) is cause to see a doctor. Emergency medical care is needed if the fever is accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as severe headache, rash, light sensitivity, confusion, stiff neck, difficulty breathing, chest or abdominal pain, or persistent vomiting.
While not usually life-threatening, treating sprains appropriately can help prevent further injury and aid recovery. A sprain is when the ligaments connecting bones are stretched or torn. Mild sprains can be self-treated with the RICE method. Rest the injured area, ice it for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours for the first few days, compress it with an elastic bandage, and elevate it above the heart. If the pain is severe, the joint can’t bear weight, or injury to the bone is suspected, then it’s time to see a doctor.
Sadly, a leading cause of death is suicide. Suicide and suicidal thoughts can affect people of all ages and demographics, although risk is heighten among some groups. It can be hard to know what to do if you suspect someone is having suicidal thoughts, especially if you’re not sure. But remember, it’s better to ask and be wrong than to experience the tragedy of losing someone to suicide. Checking in and supporting someone, helping them find resources, and reducing the stigma around suicide are all important in suicide prevention. Knowing and watching out for the signs is key to recognizing and helping loved ones who are struggling. Signs include isolation, increased anxiety, mood swings, hopelessness, sleeping too much or too little, talking about being a burden, feeling trapped, being in unbearable pain, or wanting to die, and making plans or trying to access lethal means. Encourage loved ones (and yourself) to call or text a crisis hotline such as 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline if they’re struggling.
Breast cancer is when the cells in the breast grow uncontrollably. The cancer can spread to the rest of the body and lead to death. Cancers that are caught early can be treated early, often leading to better outcomes. Thus, it’s important to be aware of the early symptoms of breast cancer. These include pain in the breast, lumps in the breast or armpit, redness, nipple discharge, flaky skin, swelling, and other breast changes. While these symptoms can indicate breast cancer, they can also be caused by other symptoms. Any abnormal changes in the breast should be brought up with a doctor as soon as possible. They can run tests to determine the cause.
Poisoning results from exposure to poisonous substances such as chemicals, venoms, or even gases. Dosage is important when it comes to poisoning, as different amounts can have different effects, from no symptoms to death. Children are especially at risk for poisoning. Redness around the mouth, vomiting, difficulty breathing, confusion, and drowsiness are all symptoms of poisoning to watch for. Serious cases require calling emergency services, while for milder ones you can contact the Poison Control Center (in the U.S.). While waiting for emergency services, remove the poison if possible, gather information such as the poison’s container and the person’s age, weight, and height, and remember to never try to induce vomiting.
Shock is a serious condition that happens due to a sudden drop in blood flow. When a person is in shock, their organs are not receiving adequate oxygen. If the shock is not addressed, then those organs may become permanently damaged or the person may even die. Shock happens in response to other conditions, many of which are featured in this article. These include major injuries and infections, heat stroke, poisoning, and other traumas. If someone has had a major trauma, be on the lookout for these signs of stroke: weakness, dizziness, rapid pulse, paleness or ashenness, blue- or gray-tinged lips, and nausea or vomiting. Once these signs are noticed, seek emergency medical care, lay the person down with their legs elevated, limit movement, and address their injuries.
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