Heat and humidity return to county

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

With the extended forecast predicting several days of 90 degree temperatures, area residents, especially those working or playing outdoors, should take precautions against heat-related illnesses.

David Compton, director of the Barry County Office of Emergency Management, said residents should remember to drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks from the heat.

"Children are very susceptible to heat-related illnesses," Compton said. "They get distracted and don't stop their activities frequently enough to rehydrate themselves."

The body is commonly cooled through sweating, but in cases of extreme temperatures and high humidity, something for which Missouri is known, the natural cooling system begins to break down, resulting in mild to severe forms of heat illness.

Heat cramps are typically one the initial signs that the body has lost too many salts and fluids. When the body loses salt, muscle cramps occur, and while painful, they are not serious.

Treatment for heat cramps includes resting in a cool place and fluids to ease discomfort. Massaging cramped muscles may also help.

Heat exhaustion is a more severe heat illness that can occur when someone in a hot climate or environment hasn't been drinking enough fluids. Symptoms may include: dehydration, fatigue, weakness, clammy skin, headache, nausea orvomiting, rapid breathing and irritability.

Treatment for heat exhaustion includes taking the victim indoors or into the shade, loosening the victim's clothing and trying to get the victim to eat and drink.

Parents or caregivers should also try to give the victim a bath in cool (not cold) water, and call a doctor for further advice. If the victim is too exhausted or ill to eat or drink, intravenous fluids may be necessary.

If left untreated, heat exhaustion may escalate into heatstroke, which can be fatal.

The most severe form of heat illness, heatstroke, is a life-threatening medical emergency. Heat stroke occurs when the body loses its ability to regulate its own temperature. Body temperature can soar to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, leading to brain damage or even death if not quickly treated. Immediate treatment is required to bring the body temperature under control.

Factors that increase the risk for heatstroke include overdressing and extreme physical exertion in hot weather combined with inadequate fluid intake. Heatstroke can happen if a child is left in, or becomes accidentally trapped in, a car on a hot day. When the outside temperature is 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit in just 20 minutes. These temperatures will quickly raise body temperatures to dangerous levels. Farm and factory workers in extremely hot environments are also at risk.

Call for emergency medical help if the victim has been outside in the sun for a long time and shows one or more of these symptoms of heatstroke:

flushed, hot, dry skin with no sweating; temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher; severe, throbbing headache; weakness, dizziness, or confusion; sluggishness or fatigue; seizure; decreased responsiveness; or loss of consciousness.

While waiting for help to arrive, parents or caregivers need to move the victim indoors or into the shade and sponge or douse the victim with cool water. Apply ice packs to the victim's armpits, groin, neck and back. These areas contain a lot of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Cooling them with ice packs can help the person cool down. Do not give fluids.

Some medicines can put people in danger of heatstroke because they affect the way the body reacts to heat. These include: allergy medicines; blood pressure and heart medicines; diet pills and illegal drugs such as cocaine; laxatives; some antidepressants and antipsychotics; seizure medicines; and diuretics.

"There are some precautions residents can take to prevent heat-related illness," Compton said. "When the heat index is high, stay indoors in air-conditioned areas when possible. In extreme temperatures, residents can visit the local shopping center or library to seek relief from the heat.

"People should also take care to consume enough water, even if they don't feel thirsty," Compton added. "Sometimes, people won't realize they are sweating because it dries so quickly."

Sport enthusiasts and individuals who work out in the heat are urged to rehydrate with sport drinks, that contain added ingredients to replace diminished salt and fluids quickly.

Additional precautions include:

* Wearing lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing; protecting the face and skin of the body by wearing a hat or using an umbrella; and using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more.

* Avoid beverages that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee and soda and alcohol.

* Schedule vigorous outdoor activities for cooler times of the day, before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

* During an outdoor activity, take frequent breaks. Drink water or other fluids every 15 to 20 minutes. Drink before feeling thirsty. Passing clear, pale urine, indicates a person is drinking enough fluids. Dark-colored urine is an indication that a person is dehydrated.

"The lingering effects of heat-related illness can last up to a week or more," Compton said. "We want to make sure area residents have a safe, enjoyable summer."

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