Heat awareness imperative

By: Kathie Cox - Public Health Matters!

I’ve learned my lesson the hard way.

Recently I decided to mow my entire lawn (after walking the dog) in what I thought was late enough in the day to not worry about the heat so much. It was only in the upper 80’s and the wind was blowing a little. Boy, was I wrong. Because my neighbors on either side of me had just mowed their lawns, mine looked like a ‘field’ of unsightly, embarrassing, knee deep weeds you could hide a Great Dane in. Not to be outdone, and already hot and sweaty, I decided to mow at least my front yard, which turned into the entire yard. Not only did I not stop to take breaks – (Lord, help me if I had to pull the starter on the push mower again), I had not eaten much during the day, nor did I stop to drink water or cool off – even though I knew I should. By 8 pm, I was barely able to push the mower another foot or even let go of the starter to turn it off and knew I was in trouble. I was already experiencing many of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, and barely able to make it inside. By 10 pm, and by this time experiencing all of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, I knew I had to call my daughter to come and help me. I was truly scared. And that’s why I write this article to educate the public.

Heat awareness is imperative. Knowing the symptoms of heat related illness and what to do or not do, is vital.

May 1 was the start of the heat season. During May 1-5, there were 58 emergency department visits for heat-related illness in North Carolina. This number is a bit high for the first few days of heat season, perhaps due to a cool spring and the first 80 degree days. 62 percent of illness was among males, mostly among 25-44 year-olds. Common references in emergency department visit notes were for working outdoors (e.g., construction) and recreation (e.g., outdoor events).

Not only are our kids at risk, older adults, those with chronic illnesses or taking certain medications, yourself and our pets are at risk too! Heat related illness can also affect those who are homeless or poor, outdoor workers, and athletes, or even hard-headed people like me and why it is important we all take precautions! Look out for your neighbor and stay informed of extreme weather alerts.

Here is what experts suggest to help keep kids’ (and adults) internal cooling systems running well:

Don’t forget the fluids. Kids are more susceptible to dehydration and heat-related illnesses than adults. Make sure your kids drink plenty of fluids, especially water (avoid soft drinks and other sugary beverages). Very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps, however, so keep liquids cool, not cold. Stay Hydrated!

Dress light. Make sure your kids’ clothes are loose-fitting and light-colored to reflect, not absorb, the sun’s energy. A wide-brimmed hat or a sports cap with a brim will help ward off rays. When clothes get sweaty, provide dry ones.

Avoid the midday sun. The sun’s rays peak between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so schedule indoor activities during this time. And no matter when they’re out in the sun, slather them with FDA approved broad spectrum sunscreens.

Keep it small. Provide small meals and frequent snacks. Avoid high-protein foods, because they may increase body (metabolic) heat.

Lock your car. Curious toddlers can crawl into a family car and find themselves trapped. These circumstances contribute to one-third of all children’s heatstroke-related deaths in a vehicle. So make sure you lock your vehicles when you park them. And never leave a child, adult or pet in a vehicle. Temperatures rise inside vehicles so quickly and can become unbearable to survive.

Know the symptoms and what to do. If you know how to spot heat-related problems, you’ll know how to help your child or an adult, and when to call for help.

Symptoms: Heat Cramps; Heavy Sweating; Painful muscle spasms in the legs or abdomen

What to do: Get child or adult to a cooler place and in a comfortable position. Lightly stretch out the affected muscle. Provide fluids: a half-glass of cool (not cold) water every 15 minutes, clear juice or a sports beverage. Seek medical attention if the cramps to not subside after one hour.

Heat Exhaustion: Heavy Sweating; Cool, pale and clammy skin; muscle cramps; weakness; headache; nausea or vomiting; fainting

What to do: Get child/adult to a cooler place and a comfortable position. Remove or loosen tight clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets to the body. Provide fluids; a half-glass of cool (not cold) water every 15 minutes. Call child’s or adult’s healthcare provider for advice.

Heat Stroke/Sunstroke: Extremely high body temperature of 103 degrees or higher; Hot, dry skin and no sweating; Rapid pulse; Rapid, shallow breathing; Headache; Dizziness; Nausea; Confusion; Loss of consciousness

This is a potentially life-threatening emergency. Call 911 and the child/adult’s physician. While you are waiting for help: Get child/adult to a cooler place and immediately begin to cool the body. Immerse child/adult in a tub of cool water, or cool shower, or use cool water from a water hose or sponge child with cool water or wrap in a cool, wet sheet. Do not give fluids, even if child or adult vomits.

Scotland County Health Department encourages everyone to take the heat and all heat alerts seriously and do not ignore danger signs of heat-related problems. Help keep our communities and loved ones safe.

Want to learn more about summer safety or what you can do to prevent sun damage – a risk factor for skin cancer or heat-related illness? For information, programs or presentations contact Kathie Cox, Health Educator II/PIO and Heat Prevention Specialist, Scotland County Health Department, at 910/277-2470, Ext. 4478, or go to www.everydayhealth.com, www.safekids.org, www.cdc.gov/nceh/extremeheat or http://publichealth.nc.gov/chronicdiseaseandinjury/heat.htm for more information.

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Kathie Cox

Public Health Matters!

Kathie Cox is a health educator and public information officer at the Scotland County Health Department. Reach her at 910-277-2470, ext. 4478.

Kathie Cox is a health educator and public information officer at the Scotland County Health Department. Reach her at 910-277-2470, ext. 4478.