Take Health Precautions During Extreme Summer Heat

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Jul 9 2012 - 11:55am
heat related illness, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, summer safety

Thankfully, the Weather Channel reports that many areas of the country will be cooler this week, but recently the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and the South has been hit with record heat and high humidity with temperatures beyond 100 degrees F. This raises the risk for heat-related illness, so taking proper precautions before heading outdoors for your favorite activities is crucial.

Although those at greatest risk for heat-related illness are those over 65, infants and young children, and patients with chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and respiratory problems (asthma, emphysema), everyone has an increased health risk during hot weather. Poor air quality, often associated with hot weather, can add to the risks.

The two most common types of heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion can occur after sun exposure or not drinking enough fluids after spending time outside. Symptoms include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting.

If heat exhaustion is not treated, it could result in heat stroke which is much more serious as body temperatures can reach above 104 degrees resulting in red, hot and dry skin, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and unconsciousness. When someone is experiencing these symptoms, call for emergency medical assistance via 911 and attempt to cool the person off in a shady place while waiting for help to arrive. Without medical attention, death or permanent disability can occur.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following for everyone to avoid heat-related illness:

• Stay indoors in air conditioning as much as possible. Air conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. A fan may not be enough as a primary cooling device during an extreme heat event. If you cannot afford air-conditioning, contact your local health department or locate an air-conditioned shelter in your area
• If you can, avoid using the stove or oven to cook, which can make your house even hotter.
• Drink plenty of water throughout the day (more than usual), and don't wait until you are thirsty to drink liquids. Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar as they can cause dehydration (loss of body fluids).
• If you must be outside in the heat, limit activity to morning and evening hours, and try to rest often in shady areas. Once back inside, take a cool shower or bath to cool down.
• Dress in light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Also use a sunscreen of SPF15 or higher.

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Remember to never leave your children or pets in vehicles. According to the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco University, this year there have been at least 10 deaths of children due to hyperthermia after being left in a hot car, truck, van or SUV. The vast majority of these children were aged 2 and under.

A child’s thermoregulatory system is not as efficient as an adult’s, so their body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster. Reaching a core body temperature of 107 degrees F is considered lethal as cells are damaged and internal organs shut down.

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