Stay cool this summer

Thursday, June 10, 2010

With forecasters predicting a hot, dry summer, the Barry County Office of Emergency Management encourages area residents to take precautions over the next few months.

"The big things to remember are to remain hydrated and stay inside, in a cool environment, when it gets warm outside," said David Compton, Barry County Emergency Management director. "People also need to understand that when they are inside with fans on they need to circulate air in from somewhere else. Warm air circulating in a room can act as a convection oven.

"One of the things that killed several people in St. Louis a few years ago was the use of fans while leaving the windows shut," said Compton. "A convection oven uses hot air that circulates through the oven to cook items evenly. If you are using fans, you must open the windows to get air flow through your house."

When temperatures rise above 85 degrees and the humidity rises to 85 percent or more, individuals who do not have air conditioning in their homes should look for a cool place to spend the hottest hours of the day.

"Heat indexes are a very important thing to be aware of," said Compton. "The temperature outside is not a true measure of how the heat will affect the body. You have to be aware of the heat plus the humidity.

"When the temperature reaches 85 degrees and the humidity is at 85 percent, you have a heat index of around 110 degrees," said Compton. "This is very dangerous, especially for the elderly."

Compton recommends individuals visit a public building, such as a library, a senior center or a local YMCA, to remain cool during extremely hot days.

"Missouri has had temperatures as high as 116 to 120 degrees," said Compton. "It is not unforeseeable for us to see temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, but we cannot wait for temperatures to get that hot before we take precautions."

Compton urges area residents to be aware of weather alerts and heat index warnings, which are issued by the National Weather Service. When a heat index warning is issued, individuals should be prepared to spend the day in a cool area.

"When you are outside for any type of activity it is important to be well hydrated," said Compton. "Drink water or a sports drink cut with 50 percent water. Beverages like Gatorade and Powerade have a lot of sugar in them, so they should be diluted with water.

"Water is always the best thing to drink," said Compton. "Coffee, tea and pop will dehydrate you. Drinking lots of pop when you are thirsty will dry you out even more."

If heat illness or injury is suspected, the person should be moved to a cool environment immediately, Compton.

"Most heat illnesses start out with cramping muscles, which are known as heat cramps," said Compton. "Those individuals should be given small amounts of water to drink. If they begin to feel nausea, they should be taken to the emergency room."

If an individual becomes pale or cool to the touch and begins sweating profusely, heat exhaustion is likely occurring.

"When their skin becomes clammy a true medical emergency exists, and they should seek medical attention," said Compton. "The most dangerous heat illness is heat stroke. During heat stroke the body temperature rises above 106 degrees and the person stops sweating. This is a life and death emergency. Someone suffering from heat stroke can die fairly quickly."

If heat stroke is suspected, the individual should be taken to the emergency room immediately.

"Individuals should always watch for heat cramps, which are painful muscle spasms," said Compton. "If heat cramps are recognized and treated, it can prevent the individual from getting worse.

"The predictions are for us to see a very hot, dry summer this year," said Compton. "Area residents must be concerned about keeping themselves out of the heat as much as possible during times of extreme heat and humidity."

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services offers the following tips to prevent heat-related illness:

* Be aware of the warning signs, which can include light-headedness, mild nausea, confusion, sleepiness and profuse sweating.

* Schedule outdoor activities before noon or in the evening.

* Wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn, which can affect the body's ability to cool itself.

* Check on elderly friends and family members during times of extreme heat.

* Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

* Increase fluid intake regardless of activity level.

* Avoid drinks containing caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar, hot foods and heavy meals.

* Do not leave infants, children or pets unattended in parked cars or other hot environments.

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