As the temperatures increase, it is time to take steps to stay cool, remain hydrated, and keep informed. Getting too hot can make you sick. While heat-related deaths and illness are preventable, many people die from extreme heat each year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. Those at greatest risk for heat-related illnesses include people 65 and older, children younger than two, and people with chronic disease. The main things affecting your body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather are high humidity and personal factors such as age, obesity, dehydration, heart disease, poor circulation, prescription drug use, alcohol use, and sunburn. Two of the most common hot weather related health problems are heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke occurs when the body’s internal temperature rises to 103 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes and its ability to sweat fails. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given. Signs of heat stroke vary, but may include:
High body temperature (103 degrees or higher);
Hot, red, dry, skin (no sweating);
Fast, strong pulse;
Unconsciousness (passing out).
If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, immediately:
Call 911 for medical assistance — heat stroke is a medical emergency;
Cool the person’s body by taking a cool shower or spraying or sponging them with cool water;
Place the person in a shady/cool area; and
DO NOT give the person anything to drink!
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat. Those most at risk are the elderly, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in the heat. Signs of heat exhaustion may include:
Cold, pale, and clammy skin;
Fast, weak pulse;
Feeling tired or weak;
Fainting (passing out).
If untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. Seek immediate medical attention if the person has heart problems, high blood pressure, of if the symptoms are severe. Otherwise, assist the person in efforts to cool their body and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour. To cool the body down, have the person:
Drink cool, non-alcoholic beverages;
Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath;
Go into an air-conditioned environment; and
Wear light-weight clothing.
Your best defense against heat-related illness is prevention. We have a few tips to help you tackle the hot weather and stay healthy.
Drink more water — During hot weather, it is critical to stay hydrated by increasing your fluid intake, especially if you are 65 or older. However, avoid alcoholic beverages because alcohol causes you to lose more fluid from your body.
Replace salt and minerals — Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from your body. The easiest and safest way to replace these minerals is through your diet. Drink fruit juice or sports beverages during exercise or any work in the heat. If you are on a low-salt diet, check with your physician before drinking sport beverages.
Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen — When you have to be in the sun, wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat for portable shade. Try to avoid getting sunburned as it affects the body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. The key to applying sunscreen is to use at least SPF 15 and apply a thick layer all over exposed skin. Remember to reapply according to the instructions and after swimming or sweating.
Stay cool indoors — The best way to beat the heat is to stay in an air-conditioned area. Swamp coolers work well in our dry climate and are a good substitute for air conditioning. If you have neither, consider a visit to a cool library, shopping mall, or movie theater for a few hours. Electric fans are great at night to help draw cool air into your home, but do not prevent heat-related illness. Also, use your oven and stove sparingly when it is hot to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.
Use common sense — If you must be in the heat, plan your activities in the early morning or later in the evening. Do not leave pets or children in a parked car. Even with windows cracked, the inside temperature of a car can reach dangerous and deadly levels in less than five minutes. Dress infants in cool, loose clothing and monitor fluid intake. Provide plenty of fresh water for your pets and leave water in a shady area.
By staying cool, remaining hydrated, and keeping informed, we can all enjoy this time of year.
Jeanne Freeman is with the Carson City Health and Human Services