Stay Safe in the Summer Heat
by Sherrie Norris
Very hot and humid weather causes an increase in internal body temperature, which places greater demands upon the body's ability to stay cool.
If body temperature continues to rise without sufficient cooling, a serious heat disorder can occur.People particularly at risk are:
• Those who work outside, especially if the job requires physical labor.
• Infants, young children and the elderly.
• The chronically ill and individuals with heart or circulatory problems.
Heat disorders can be mild or severe. Among some of the milder reactions to overheating include rash, fatigue and cramps.
Others that might result in more serious side effects, include the following:
• Heat syncope and fainting: Individuals who are unaccustomed to the heat, or who are active for long periods in the heat, may experience such a reduced blood flow to the brain that fainting results. Fainting victims should lie down and rest in a cool place and drink plenty of fluids.
• Heat exhaustion: Victims experience a more serious loss of body fluids and salt and experience decreased blood flow to the brain and other organs, heat exhaustion leads to symptoms such as excessive sweating, cool, pale and clammy skin, weakness, nausea, headache, dizziness and slightly elevated body temperature. If heat exhaustion is suspected, victims should be moved to a cool place to rest with their feet slightly elevated and their clothes loosened or removed and they should drink plenty of cool liquids.
• Heat stroke: The most serious of heat disorders, heat stroke is the result of a complete breakdown of the body's cooling mechanisms. Symptoms include lack of perspiration; red, bluish or mottled skin, hot and dry skin, strong, rapid pulse, temperature of 105 degrees or higher, severe headache, chills, or nausea, mental confusion, dizziness, unconsciousness, convulsions and eventual coma. Heat stroke should be treated immediately because it can cause brain damage and death. Call for emergency help, then remove the victim's clothing and cool the body by rubbing with a cold sponge, ice pack or cold compresses, cooling with a fan, or by immersing the person in tepid water.
Tips to beat the heat
• Never leave anyone in a parked car. When it's hot outside, the temperature in a car interior can reach dangerous and sometimes fatal levels in a matter of minutes.
• Keep close check on elderly relatives and neighbors, especially those who live alone. Anyone with a history of heat-related illness, or with compromised health, is at greater risk for dehydration and other problems that can lead to serious outcomes.
• Stay indoors and avoid extreme temperature changes. If the residence does not have air conditioning, consider going to a shopping mall, movie or public library — even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
• If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine, and keep electric fans running. Keep the door or window open to the outside. While fans do not cool the air, they move the air around and keep you cool.
• Drink cool liquids often, particularly water, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcoholic beverages, which dehydrate the body. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour.
• Eat small, frequent meals. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
• If you must go out, wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
• Avoid strenuous outdoor activity if at all possible. If you must engage in activity, limit exposure during midday hours.
• Cover all exposed skin with a high SPF sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and head.
• Drink plenty of fluids, even after sun exposure.
Cool off in a tub of cool water, cool shower or sponge off with cool water.
Know the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun, and be ready to give first aid treatment.