Thursday, July 3

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Hot weather reminders

[JULY 3, 2003] 

Why do high air temperatures affect the body?

Normally, the body cools itself by sweating. If temperatures are extremely high, however, sweating is not enough to maintain the body's normal temperature. When this happens, blood chemistry can change and internal organs, including the brain and kidneys, can be damaged. Heat also can be stressful if the temperature changes suddenly, since it usually takes several days for the body to adjust to the heat.

What are some of the most common heat-related conditions?

The most common are heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn and heat rash. Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are the most serious.

 

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106 degrees F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heatstroke can result from overexposure to direct sunlight, with or without physical activity, or to very high indoor temperatures. It can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.

What are the symptoms of heatstroke and how are they treated?

Symptoms include an extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees, orally); red, hot and dry skin; rapid pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness, nausea; confusion; and unconsciousness. If symptoms of heatstroke are present, find a cool place, preferably an air-conditioned indoor setting. Outside, find a spot in the shade. Put the person in a semi-sitting position. Loosen his or her clothing and bathe the head and body with COLD water. Seek medical attention immediately.

 

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion can result when too much time is spent in a very warm environment, resulting in excessive sweating without adequate fluid and electrolyte (salt and minerals) replacement. This can occur either indoors or outdoors, with or without exercise.

What are the symptoms of heat exhaustion and how are they treated?

Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include dizziness, headache, nausea, abdominal cramps, shallow breathing, cold and clammy skin, muscle tremors, and heavy perspiration. A person suffering from heat exhaustion should be moved to an air-conditioned environment if possible. If outside, move the person to a shady spot.

How can I avoid heat exhaustion and heatstroke?

Try to keep cool during extremely hot weather. Stay in a cool environment (preferably air-conditioned), drink plenty of fluids -- such as water, fruit juices or fruit drinks -- and use common sense. Heat injury may develop with or without feelings of discomfort.

What are heat cramps?

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms -- usually in the abdomen, arms or legs -- that may occur in association with strenuous activity as sweating depletes the body's salt and moisture. If you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet, get medical attention for heat cramps. If medical attention is not necessary, stop all activity and sit quietly in a cool place, drink clear juice or a sports beverage, and do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside, because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Seek medical attention if the heat cramps do not subside in one hour.

What about sunburn?

Sunburn should be avoided because it is damaging to the skin. Although the discomfort is usually minor and healing often occurs in about a week, a more severe sunburn may require medical attention. Symptoms of sunburn are well-known: Skin becomes red, painful and abnormally warm after sun exposure. Consult a doctor if the sunburn affects an infant under 1 year of age or if these symptoms are present: fever, fluid-filled blisters or severe pain.

When treating sunburn, avoid repeat sun exposure, apply cold compresses or immerse the sunburned area in cool water, apply moisturizing lotion to affected areas (not salve, butter or ointment), and do not break blisters.

 

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What if I do not have an air conditioner?

Seek out the nearest facility that is air-conditioned, such as a cooling shelter, a senior citizen center, public library, shopping mall, church, the local YMCA or a center designated by your community. Even short periods of time in a cool environment will lessen the risk of heat injury. Fans alone will not effectively cool an overheated person when air temperatures are above 100 degrees. A cool shower or bath is a more effective way to cool off.

In the wake of the 1995 heat wave in Chicago, many older people reported being afraid to open windows or to venture out of their homes to go to cooling centers. In these situations, people may want to contact the local police, their church or a community group about being escorted to the nearest cooling center.

 

What is "plenty of fluids"?

During hot weather, you will need to drink more liquid than your thirst indicates. "Plenty of fluids" means at least 1 to 2 quarts of fluids daily. This can be water, fruit juice, or fruit-flavored or carbonated drinks. Since aging can cause a decreased thirst sensation, elderly people should drink water, fruit juices or other fruit drinks at regular intervals during the day even if they do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcoholic beverages and those containing caffeine. Salt tablets are not substitutes for fluids. Avoid very cold beverages because they can cause stomach cramps.

What are some good tips on how to avoid heat-related problems?

Use a buddy system. When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. If you are at home and are 65 years of age or older or have a chronic health problem, ask a friend, relative or neighbor call to check on you at least twice a day during a heat wave, even if you have air-conditioning.

Limit outdoor activities. Try to plan activities for the coolest times of the day -- before noon or in the evening. While outdoors, rest frequently in a shady area. Resting periodically will give your body's thermostat a chance to recover. If you are unaccustomed to working in a hot environment, start slowly. If you must work faster, pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity, get into a cool area -- or least in the shade -- and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak or faint.

 

Drink plenty of fluids. Even if you remain indoors and limit your activity, your body still needs to replace lost fluids, salt and minerals. Make an extra effort to drink a minimum of six to eight 8-ounce glasses of cool fluids daily. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses of cool fluids each hour. Parents should be sure young children get sufficient fluids. Do not take salt tablets unless directed by your doctor. If you are on a low-salt diet, ask your doctor before changing what you eat or drink -- especially before drinking a sports beverage. Caution: If your doctor has prescribed a fluid-restricted diet or diuretics, ask your physician about how much you should drink.

Protect your body. Wear as little clothing as possible when indoors. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. When spending time outdoors, avoid direct sunlight, wear a wide-brimmed hat and use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor greater than SPF 15 to protect yourself against sunburn. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply according to package directions.

Never leave children, the elderly or pets in a parked car, not even for just a few minutes. The air temperature inside a car rises rapidly during hot weather and can lead to brain damage or death. Cracking the window to let air in does not protect kids from hyperthermia.

If you know of seniors who live alone, whether they are family, friends or neighbors, consider checking on them daily during periods of extreme heat.

A final reminder: Take care of your pets. In many ways, dogs and cats react to hot weather as humans do. Offer pets extra water and be sure to place the water dish in a shaded area if outdoors. Make sure pets have a protected place where they can get away from the sun.

[Logan County Health Department news release]

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