Heat Can Be Dangerous

By: Jeff Shepard
By: Jeff Shepard

If you've been outside during the day lately, you know the summer heat wave has officially started.

"Each summer we anticipate heat-related cases," said Dr. Bret Boes of Anderson's Hospital's emergency room.

Symptoms of heat-related sickness vary by age and the severity of dehydration. But there are common symptoms.

"Generally the symptoms can range from just weakness to muscle cramps," said Boes, "all the way to confusion and severe cramps and mental status changes."

Young children and the elderly are the most susceptible. The elderly are so sensitive because they frequently are left by themselves.

"They tend not to be as sensitive to temperature changes," Boes said. "You might see them outside wearing long sleeves and things like that in the very hot weather. They just don't detect it the same, and sometimes they're really sick before they realize what's happening."

It seems like we hear this story every summer: a parent leaves their child locked in the car while they run off to finish a few errands. But when they return, tragedy. That's why doctors say you should never, ever under any circumstances, leave your child locked in the car during the summer.

Remember that time can get away from you and that in reality, in a very short amount of time, especially small children or pets, can overheat and have very serious illness and death.

Precautions you can take to beat the heat include staying inside during peak sun hours, dressing appropriately and drinking lots of fluids.

But as one veteran of Mississippi's summers told me Tuesday, no matter what you do, you're going to sweat.

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Tips on Preventing and Managing Heat

  • Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

  • Don’t drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar–these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

  • Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library–even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.

  • Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.

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

  • Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.

  • Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on:
    • Infants and young children
    • People aged 65 or older
    • People who have a mental illness
    • Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure

  • Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

If You Must be Out in the Heat:

  • Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.

  • Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Remember the warning in the first “tip” (above), too.

  • Try to rest often in shady areas.

  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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