Be aware of heat-related illness

Published 7:38 pm Friday, June 11, 2010

Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable, said Southwest District Health Director Jacqueline Grant, adding that now is the time for people to become aware of who is at risk and how to protect them.

“Weather forecasters are predicting the first heat wave of the year is heading our way,” Grant said. “Here in southwest Georgia, high temperatures are accompanied with high humidity. Normally, the body cools itself by sweating. But when humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly.”

When that happens, the person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems, said Grant.

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“Older adults, the very young and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are at highest risk of heat-related illness and death,” she said. “However, even young and healthy individuals can fall victim to heat-related illness if they are involved in strenuous physical activity during hot weather.”

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.”

Other tips

 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 Fahrenheit); 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.