(July 19, 2011) With the temperatures predicted to rise over the next few days, local public health officials offer tips for avoiding heat-related illness.
"Your best defense against heat-related illness is prevention," said Carol Paxton, Director of Emergency Preparedness for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. "Staying cool and making simple changes in your fluid intake, activities, and clothing during hot weather can help you remain safe and healthy."
People suffer heat-related illness when the body's temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough. In such cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Several factors affect the body's ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions that can limit the ability to regulate temperature include old age, youth (age 0-4), obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug use and alcohol use.
To avoid heat-related illness, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) & Prevention recommends:
If you must be out in the heat, try to limit outdoor activities to the morning and evening hours and:
- Drinking more fluids (non-alcoholic), 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.
- Avoiding liquids that contain 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.
- Staying indoors and, if at all possible, staying in an air-conditioned place.
- Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go shopping or to a movie or the public library–even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat and is a much better way to cool off. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness.
- Wearing lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- NEVER leaving anyone or animals in a closed, parked vehicle.
- Checking on people who are at greater risk for heat-related illness: 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.
- Visiting 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.
Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat, but if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Pay attention to the heat index, which combines temperature with humidity to determine how hot it actually feels to be outside.
Warning signs of heat stroke vary, but they may include an extremely high body temperature (above 103°F); red, hot, and dry skin without sweating; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; nausea; confusion, and/or unconsciousness. If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call 911 while you begin cooling the victim. First, get him or her to a shady area. Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, place the person in a cool shower; 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.
- Try to rest often in shady areas.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. (The most effective sunscreen products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).
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.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information regarding heat-related illness, contact your health care provider or visit http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat.