HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Paramedics across Hampton Roads see increased calls for heat exhaustion and heat stroke as heat indexes hit triple digits.
"Heat stroke is the most extreme form and it is a true life-threatening injury," said Virginia Beach EMS Brigade Chief Elizabeth Beatty.
Beatty says oftentimes people have just minutes before heat exhaustion turns into a heat stroke.
"By time they start saving symptoms it's really almost too late," Beatty explained. "Heat stroke causes an altered level of consciousness. Their heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory status is compromised."
Beatty says experiencing a heat stroke can permanently damage the brain, harming cognitive functions like memory, knowledge and problem-solving.
This brain damage is irreversible, yet oftentimes the warning signs are ignored.
"If you find that you are exhausted or you're breathing harder or just don't feel that you're making as much progress in whatever task you're doing, take a step back," said Captain Matt Oswald of the Newport News Fire Department. "And there is potential for lasting effect."
The symptoms of heat exhaustion include extreme sweating, dizziness and weakness. Heat exhaustion oftentimes turns into heat cramping, and if still left untreated, someone may experience a heat stroke.
If someone does undergo heat exhaustion or stroke, paramedics say it is imperative to call 911 right away.
"There have been times people waited a really long time [to call 911] and at that point we're just playing catch-up for the heat-related injury," Beatty said.
This, paramedics believe, makes preventive measures incredibly important.
Beatty says if you know you'll be outside, start drinking water as early as 24 hours in advance.
EMTs also suggest avoiding drinks that will dehydrate you like caffeine and alcohol.
"Avoid anything that makes you urinate more, makes you sweat more or makes your body work harder," Oswald explained.
To cool yourself down, paramedics recommend putting washcloths or dish rags in your cooler. You can then place them around your neck, under your armpits and near your groin to bring down internal body temperature.
And be mindful of any health conditions. Beatty says if you suffer from congestive heart failure or are undergoing dialysis, remember that your body is already short on fluids and spend as little time outside as possible.