Safety tips for extreme heat dangers

Published 2:26pm Monday, May 23, 2011

When high temperatures mix with high humidity, older adults, the very young and people with chronic disease and mental illness are at highest risk of heat-related illness and death—but even young and healthy individuals should take precautions if they are involved in strenuous activity, warns the region’s top public health official.

“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable,” said Southwest District Health Director Jacqueline Grant. “People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But when humidity is high, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.”

Conditions that increase the risk of heat-related illness or death include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn and prescription drug and alcohol use.

The No. 1 protection against heat-related illness and death is air-conditioning, Grant said.

“If you do not have air-conditioning in your home, then we recommend you spend time in air-conditioned buildings such as libraries or shopping malls or emergency shelters during heat waves,” Grant said.

Other tips include:

• Drink plenty of fluids, but stay away from those that are sugary or alcoholic—because they actually cause you to lose more body fluid—and avoid very cold drinks, since they can cause stomach cramps;

• Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing;

• Try to limit outdoor activities to early in the morning or late in the evening, when temperatures are cooler;

• Never leave children or pets in cars, even with the windows cracked open;

• It is also important to know the symptoms of heat stroke, which is a life-threatening emergency, Grant said.

Warning signs of heat stroke include extremely high body temperature (103 degrees F); dizziness; hot, red, dry skin, but no sweating; nausea; confusion; unconsciousness; throbbing headache; and a strong, rapid pulse.

“If you see these symptoms, have someone call 911 immediately while you begin cooling the victim,” Grant said.

More information is available at and and from your county health department.

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