June 08, 2006

Beat the Summer Heat

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us With summer right around the corner and temperatures closing in on the century mark already now is a good time to remind everyone of the dangers that come with increased heat. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) advises that extreme heat may create serious health issues and that the elderly, the young and people with chronic diseases as well as those without air conditioning are most at risk.

In 2005 there were 59 heat-related deaths reported in Texas an increase of 15 deaths from the year before. On average, the most deadly months are July, August and June (in order of severity). Remaining in an air-conditioned location in either your home or a community place like a mall, library or other location is the most effective method of remaining cool. If air-conditioning is not available due to either a defective system or electric brownout, DSHS advises you to open all of your windows, pull down your shades to keep out the sun. If you have power, you can also use electric fans to help beat the heat.

Things to look out for when dealing with heat illness are: headaches, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea and a weak but rapid pulse. Anyone who is experiencing one or more of these symptoms should get quickly to shade and drink some water SLOWLY. Make sure there is good ventilation around you. If your fluids are not replaced soon enough you may experience a heat stroke causing elevated body temperature, red and dry skin, rapid pulse, mental confusion, brain damage, loss of consciousness and in extreme cases even death.

Children are especially susceptible to dehydration. It is important for children to drink lots of fluids (especially water), avoid drinks that are heavily sweetened or contain caffeine. They should wear light-colored and loose fitting clothing to help their active bodies deal with the stress of heat. The most important thing is to check on children often when they are playing outside in hot temperature to ensure their safety.

More Reminders from DSHS:
  • Never leave anyone (human or animal) in a closed, parked vehicle in hot weather, even for a shot while.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine or high in sugar content. Don’t wait until you are thirsty, start drinking fluids at least a half hour before going out into the heat.
  • Plan heavy outdoor activity like gardening, car washing etc. for early in the morning or in the evening when the ambient temperature is lower.
  • When working outside take frequent breaks (you deserve it).
  • Wear SPF 15 or higher sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Eat more frequently, but be sure all your meals are well balanced, cool and light, your body will need the fuel to help combat heat stress.
  • Infants and children need to wear cool, loose clothing, shade their heads and faces with a hat or umbrella to shield them from the sun.
  • Check frequently on the elderly, ill and disabled. (Remember we are all part of this community and need to help each other through the tough times.)
  • Adjust to the environment. A sudden change in temperature, early heat wave or travel to a hotter climate will be stressful to your body. Limit your physical activity until you become acclimated to the heat.
  • Check with your doctor about the effects of sun and heat when taking prescription drugs. (Drugs like diuretics or antihistamines can react adversely in some conditions.)

Our bodies adjust to temperatures by sweating. Under some conditions, this is not enough and the body’s temperature can rise rapidly to a dangerous level leading to the chance of heat illness or death. The added risk of high humidity can cause your natural cooling system to work overtime. In high humidity sweat may not evaporate effectively and will prevent the body from shedding its heat quickly. The added stress of physical activity, fatigue, dehydration, heart disease, obesity, poor circulation, sunburn and prescription drug and alcohol use also can contribute to heat related health problems.

Your best defense against heat-related illness is PREVENTION.

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