Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dangerous Summer Heat

I live in the desert. Desert Center California to be exact. We are near the Salton Sea between the Lower Desert and the Higher Desert in the Colorado Desert. It gets hot during the summer sometimes over 120.

We just had our first Heat Alert. My husband is a quadriplegic so the Social Services calls us to make sure we know there is a heat alert and that if we need it there is a cooling center nearby.

August is showing to be a hot month, I thought I would tell you some safety tips for having a healthy, not overheated summer.

Heat related illness comes in many forms. From mild to severe.
WebMd enumerates heat illnesses as:
Heat rash which occurs when the sweat ducts to the skin become blocked or swell, and cause discomfort and itching.
Heat cramps, which occur in muscles after exercise because sweating causes the body to lose water, salt, and minerals (electrolytes).
Heat edema (swelling) in the legs and hands, which can occur when you sit or stand for a long time in a hot environment.
Heat tetany (hyperventilation and heat stress), which is usually caused by short periods of stress in a hot environment.
Heat syncope (fainting), which occurs from low blood pressure when heat causes the blood vessels to expand (dilate) and body fluids move into the legs because of gravity.
Heat exhaustion (heat prostration), which generally develops when a person is working or exercising in hot weather and does not drink enough liquids to replace those lost liquids.
Heatstroke (sunstroke), which occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature and body temperature continues to rise, often to 105 F or higher. Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Even with immediate treatment, it can be life-threatening or cause serious long-term problems.

To avoid any of the above, the Arizona Department of Heath Services suggests you:
Never leave infants, children or pets inside a parked vehicle.
Increase fluid intake, regardless of activity level. Don’t wait until thirsty to drink fluids; drink more liquid than one’s thirst indicates.
Avoid "heat hangover." Continue to drink fluids even after strenuous activity. This will enable the body to maintain optimum hydration, and help prevent the after effects of heat exposure such as headaches and fatigue.
Avoid beverages containing alcohol, caffeine or large amounts of sugar as they dehydrate the body.
Avoid very cold beverages as they cause stomach cramps.
Limit exercise or outdoor activity between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun is at its peak intensity. If active during this time frame, drink a minimum of 16 to 32 ounces of water each hour.
Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, may increase the risk of heat related illness. Consult your physician if you have questions.
When outdoors:
Wear a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15. Apply at least 30 minutes prior to going outdoors, and re-apply as necessary.
Rest frequently in shady areas so that the body’s temperature has a chance to recover.
If unaccustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, gradually increase the pace and limit exercise or work time.
Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing; sunglasses to protect the eyes; and a wide-brimmed hat to provide shade and keep the head cool.
Take special precaution with infants and young children by dressing them in loose, cool clothing and shading their heads and faces with hats or an umbrella. Protect their feet with shoes.
In general, be aware of the symptoms of heat illness. Try to stay cool. If you don't have air conditioning or windows you can open with a fan, go to a cooling center. If you don't know where one is, contact your local library, your local fire department (Do not call 911 unless it is an emergency. Call the information number found in your phone book), even your social services or local department of health.
To recap:
Symptoms of heat illness include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, nausea, weak but rapid pulse and headaches. People with these symptoms should find shade, drink water slowly and make sure there is good ventilation.
Staying in an air-conditioned area, either at home or in a public place such as a mall, library or recreation center is the most effective way to fight heat. If air conditioning is not available, pull the shades over the windows and use cross-ventilation and fans to cool rooms. (do not try to use fans to cool yourself off with all the windows closed. many elderly have succumbed to heat stroke in rooms that are closed up tightly.) A cool shower or bath also is an effective way to cool off. Limit use of stoves and ovens to keep home temperatures lower.
Be a good neighbor this year. If you know of an elderly person or handicapped person who does not have air-conditioning, either offer to take them to a cooling center or invite them into your air conditioned home. If they will not accept either offer, be sure to check on them from time to time to make sure the heat has not caused them harm.

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