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Protecting Health in a Heat Wave

June 28th, 2012

Baby, it’s hot outside…and it is only going to get hotter as the weekend and the summer progress. We thought we would pass along some words of wisdom from a variety of experts about how to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy during this heat wave.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the body normally cools itself by sweating. But in a heat wave, sweating just isn’t enough. In those cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly…and very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. In extreme cases, heat stroke can be fatal.

People at greatest risk of heat illness are infants and children under age 5, people over age 65, and people who have heart disease or poor circulation. In addition, body temperature rises more quickly if you drink alcohol, and if you are sunburned.

Warning Signs

Signs that the body may be overheating and on its way to heat stroke vary for every individual, but they include:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
If you see someone with any of these signs, call 9-1-1 for immediate medical care. Be warned that a person with heat stroke may be confused, and could try to assure you that help isn’t necessary. You need to do the clear thinking and call for help.
Meanwhile, if you see any of these signs, do the following:
  • Get the victim to a shady area.
  • Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
Milder signs of overheating–what is called heat exhaustion– include:
  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Fast pulse
If you see these signs, take steps to cool the person before it progresses to heat stroke. Try to drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages; rest; take a cool shower or bath; sit quietly in an air conditioned room; change to lightweight clothing.
More Ways to Protect Yourself and Others
  • Drink more nonalcoholic beverages than usual. In fact, you may be becoming dehydrated without even feeling thirsty.
  • Do not take salt tablets unless directed by your doctor–that’s an old wives’ tale.
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored, light-weight clothing.
  • If you go outside, remember to use sunscreen–sunburn causes loss of body fluids and makes it more difficult for the body to cool itself.
  • If you work outside, pace yourself. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least in the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint. Watch your coworkers for signs that they might be overheating.
  • Don’t let children or older adults sit in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked. The temperatures inside the car can soar to 120 degrees within minutes, putting everyone at risk. (For more information about Hot Car safety, watch our video:  Preventing Hot Car Heat Injuries in Children)

Even Dogs Can Get Too Hot

According to our friends at CareFirst Animal Hospital:

  • If you go on a daily walk, try to go as early in the morning or as late in the evening as possible. It is coolest before dawn and after sundown–the closest you can get to walking in the dark, the cooler you’ll both be.
  • If possible, try to not leave your dog outside. If you don’t trust your dog alone in the house, this might be a good time to try crate training.
  • Indoors or out, keep plenty of fresh, cool water available. If you’ll be away for a long period of time, consider adding ice cubes to the water bowl.
  • During walks and after, watch for any signs of distress that may indicate your dog is experiencing a heat stroke or heat stress. These can include excessive panting, excessive drooling, restlessness, dry tacky gums, labored breathing, and anxiety. If you see any of these  signs, call your vet. Heat stroke is dangerous and needs to be treated immediately.
  • Just as with children, remember not to leave pets in a car, even for a minute and even if you leave the windows open a crack.