• Don't Let Hot Weather and Heat-related Illness Catch You Off Guard

Published on September 30, 2015

Don't Let Hot Weather and Heat-related Illness Catch You Off Guard

The Central Coast isn't used to high temperatures like we've had lately, and that can make hot weather even more dangerous. Children and the elderly are especially susceptible to heat illness, but preventing and recognizing problems should be on everyone's mind.

Consider these tips from Cottage Health.

Stay Cool

Avoid being outside during the heat of the day, especially for strenuous work or activities like running, hiking and biking. "You can't have this hot weather and exercise like you can on regular days," says Dr. Chris Flynn, medical director for Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital's Emergency Department.

If you don't have air conditioning, you might try to capture the cool overnight air by closing your home up in the early morning, though you may need to open back up later in the day as the home gets heated from outside. Fans can also help circulate air.

Public places such as libraries, indoor shopping malls community centers and movie theaters can provide people with locations to escape, but not everyone is mobile. Check in with senior citizens to make sure they are OK. "They are more prone to dehydration," says Dr. Flynn. "They don't sweat as much. They don't tolerate the heat as much."

Kids are also at risk, as are those who are sick, obese and on certain kinds of medications.

Stay Hydrated

Your body loses fluids as it sweats to cool off, and this can lead to dehydration. "You want to drink water and Gatorade, something that will replenish your fluids and electrolytes and not deplete them," says Denise McDonald, director of Emergency and Trauma Services for Cottage Health.

Alcohol can get you into trouble quickly because it acts as a diuretic, causing you to urinate and lose fluids faster. "Drinking alcohol will just dehydrate you even more." People enjoying the sunny weather by socializing outside, should keep this in mind.

Know How to Spot Trouble

Warning signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include: heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting, and fainting.

In the case of heat exhaustion, the person who is affected should move to a cooler location, lie down with loosened clothing and sip water. Wet cloths should be applied to as much of the body as possible. The person could also get into water, for example a pool, with help. If vomiting continues, seek medical help.

Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is potentially deadly and should be treated immediately by calling for emergency medical help. Warning signs and symptoms of heat stroke include: high body temperature (above 103 degrees); hot, red, dry or moist skin; rapid and strong pulse; possible unconsciousness or altered mental state. "Once someone starts having confusion, that's a big deal," says Dr. Flynn. "That's when you need to call 9-1-1."

The Best Defense is Prevention

Here are some prevention tips:

  • Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), 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 or her how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
  • Don’t drink 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.
  • Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library–even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
  • Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.
  • Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on: infants and young children, people aged 65 or older, and those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • Visit 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.

If You Must Be Out in the Heat

  • Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
  • Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour.  A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Remember the warning in the first “tip” (above), too.
  • Try to rest often in shady areas.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels)

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