Officials warn about heat

Published 9:33 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

For years, Southerners have complained the biggest problem in the summer isn’t so much the heat as it is the humidity.
Based on information released by the Alabama Department of Public Health on Friday, it’s not just one or the other it’s a combination of the two that will pose the biggest threat of the season on the health of residents in the area.
D.W. McMillan ER physician Scott Nelson said the threat of heat stress and heat stroke is excessive activity.
“So many times people working or participating in sports in the heat become so involved and wrapped up in what they’re doing that they forget to keep up with fluids,” Nelson said. “The best rule of thumb is if you have to be out in the heat to drink 8 ounces of Gatorade or Propel — or some electrolyte mixture.”
Nelson said once you get behind in fluids, trying to catch up with water alone won’t keep you safe.
“Trying to catch up on fluids by drinking water alone won’t protect you from getting sick,” Nelson said. “Once you get behind in fluids it causes an imbalance of electrolytes in the body and the kidneys begin to shut down. That further complicates electrolyte disorders and can cause cardiac arrhythmia which is a serious condition.”
Nelson said those who have to be in the heat should pay close attention to the signs and symptoms of heat stress to avoid the serious condition.
“Sometimes people don’t realize what is happening until it’s too late,” Nelson said. “Once they get to us there is a good chance we can turn things around for them, but it is a serious situation that could lead to complications of the kidneys and heart and even to death.”
Nelson offered some advice for those who may need to be outdoors during times of heat advisories.
“If you have to be outdoors for any reason it’s best to plan your day around the heat,” Nelson said. “Do what you have to do either in early morning or late afternoon. It’s best to stay indoors during the day to avoid problems associated with heat.”
In an advisory issued by the ADPH, a combination of heat and humidity will create heat index values near or above 105 degrees this weekend according to the National Weather Service. In addition, overnight temperatures will not provide much relief, as temperatures will not drop below 75 degrees so that any heat that builds up in indoor areas will have very little opportunity to escape.
Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer, said heat stroke is possible under the conditions experienced this weekend and should be considered a serious condition.
“Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency,” Williamson said. “A person with heat stroke is likely to be unconscious or unresponsive so he or she cannot safely consume any liquids.”
Warning signs of heat stroke very, but include the following:
• Extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees F)
• Red, hot or dry skin (no sweating)
• Rapid, strong pulse
• Throbbing headache
• Dizziness
• Nausea
• Confusion
• Unconsciousness
Get the person to a shady area, cool rabidly in a tub of cool water, place in a cool shower, spray with cool water from a garden hose, splash with cool water, or if the humidity is low, place in a cool, wet sheet and fan vigorously. Monitor body temperature and continue eo0ling efforts until the person’s body temperatures drops to 101 to 102 degrees. If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call a hospital emergency room for further instructions.
Preventive measures listed by ADPH officials in efforts to avoid heat illnesses include:
• Drink more fluids and avoid beverages containing alcohol;
• When temperatures are extreme, stay indoors, ideally in an air-conditioned place;
• Take a cool shower or bath and reduce or eliminate strenuous activities during the hottest time of day;
• Protect yourself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher;
• Never leave pets or people in a parked vehicle.
Individuals with heart problems, poor circulation, diabetes or previous stroke or obesity are at greater risk of becoming sick in hot weather. The risk of heat-related illness may increase among people using medications for high blood pressure, nervousness or depression.

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