Missourians Urged To Protect Themselves From Heat This Summer

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Heat Related Illnesses

Missourians advised to take extra precautions this summer to prevent heat−related illnesses and deaths.

Summer heat can take its toll on a person's health, especially the very young, the elderly and the chronically ill. This reminder is being issued in preparation for Missouri Summer Weather Safety Week (June 24 − 30).

"Missourians need to be aware that exposure to high temperatures and humidity can cause heat−related illness and even death," said Jane Drummond, Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Each year many Missourians suffer from heat−related illnesses, and even death. Last year 25 Missourians died due to heat−related causes; one was a child and 14 were individuals aged 65 or older. Between 2000−2006, 160 Missourians died due to heat−related causes. During prolonged periods of high temperatures, air conditioning is the best preventive measure.


The elderly and the chronically ill are more vulnerable to the effects of high temperatures. They perspire less and are more likely to have health problems requiring medications that can impair the body's response to heat. Many prescription medications make individuals more sensitive to the heat.

"People should check with their doctor or pharmacist to find out if their medications fall into this category," Drummond said. "Some of these medications include antipsychotics, major tranquilizers, antihistamines, over−the−counter sleeping pills, antidepressants, heart drugs and some medications for Parkinson's Disease. This summer we urge all Missourians to check on elderly family members and neighbors regularly to be sure they are not suffering from the effects of high temperatures."

Drummond said that young children are also very sensitive to heat and are at great risk of heat−related illness and death. "Do not leave infants and children unattended in hot environments, especially cars, even if they are running with the air conditioner on," Drummond said. "It only takes a few minutes for the inside of a car to reach oven−like temperatures, putting anyone left inside at risk of overheating. People must get in the habit of always taking children out of a car in the summer, even if it is only for a few minutes."

Do not allow children to play in or around cars. Small children can quickly be trapped in vehicles because they are not big enough to open the door or roll the windows down to get out. Even older children are at risk if they fall asleep in a hot vehicle or play or hide in the trunk of a car.

Infants and children up to four years of age are very sensitive to hot weather and rely on adults to regulate their environments and provide adequate liquids. Without adult help and encouragement, small children often don't drink as much liquid as they should. They do not know they must drink more when it is hot out, and they can become dehydrated very quickly.

Heat−related illness occurs when the body's temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating, but when the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions that can limit the ability to regulate body temperature include old age, obesity, infection or fever, diarrhea or dehydration, certain medications, heart disease, poor circulation, diabetes, sunburn and drug or alcohol use. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.

The most efficient way to beat the heat is to spend time in an air−conditioned area. If you do not have air conditioning in your home, consider spending some time in a shopping mall, public library or other air−conditioned location. Electric fans may be useful to increase comfort or to draw cool air into your home at night, but do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during a heat wave. As the air temperature rises, airflow is increasingly ineffective in cooling the body until finally, at temperatures above about 100