Summer is here and the heat is on. Extra precaution is needed when spending time outdoors. Rising temperatures affects everyone, but the elderly, children, people who work or exercise outdoors and those with chronic medical conditions are most at risk for a heat-related illness.
Last year, 30 children died in the US as a result of being left in a hot car. So far this year, eight children have died after being left in a hot car, including a 4-year-old in Columbia, South Carolina. In 10 minutes, the temperature inside a vehicle raises almost 20 degrees; in 70-degree weather, within 30 minutes the inside of a vehicle will be over 100 degrees even with the windows cracked. You might not want to disturb a sleeping baby or get the kids or an elderly adult out for a five-minute store run, but five minutes can quickly turn into 30 and the temperature inside the car has become deadly. The best way to prevent this kind of tragedy is for everyone to understand it can happen to you. If you see a child alone in a vehicle call 911. Emergency personal are trained to respond to these situations.
Here are some tips on how to stay safe this summer:
— Stay indoors in an air conditioned environment
— When outside, avoid direct sunlight
— Wear lightweight, light colored clothing
— Stay hydrated by consuming more liquid than usual (preferably water)
— Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol
— Don’t leave infants, children, handicapped/disabled adults, or pets in vehicles even with the window cracked
Knowing the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke could potentially save a life. Each year in the U.S. 658 people lose their life due to heat related illness, that’s more than the fatalities seen with tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined. Extreme heat leads to an increase in body temperature which can cause brain /organ damage and even death.
Common symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke include muscle cramping, heavy sweating, weakness or cold, pale or clammy skin, fast and weak pulse, nausea or vomiting and fainting. Treatment options include moving to a cooler location; loosen clothing; apply cool, wet cloths to the body and provide a cool, clear beverage to sip.
If vomiting occurs and it continues, seek medical attention immediately.
Symptoms of heat stroke include a body temperature of more than 103 degrees; hot, red, dry or moist skin; rapid and strong pulse and unconsciousness. As this is a medical emergency, 911 should be called immediately. Move the person to a cooler environment, apply cool, wet cloths or immerse in cool water, but do not give fluids.
Operation Fan/Heat Relief offers people who are 60 or older, or people with disabilities, the opportunity to receive one fan per year to help alleviate heat problems in their home. For information, contact the Scotland Place Senior Center at 910-277-2585. More information on staying safe during the summer heat can be found at www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/ or by contacting Kathie Cox, Health Educator for the Scotland County Health Department at 910-277-2470 ext 4478.
Sha-Ronda F. McNeill is a master’s of public health intern at the Scotland County Health Department.