Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Watch that Summer Heat

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in weather that is pleasant all year around - many of us live where it gets darned cold in the winter so we bask in the heat of the summer. If you live in an area as I do, in Montreal, it can get *very* hot in the summer; we can be the city of extreme weather come winter or summer.

Summer has finally arrived full force in our part of the world, so this brings to mind the annual problems we can have with heat and heat-related illnesses. It's a sad fact, but every summer, people die because of heat stroke, which is completely avoidable if proper precautions are taken. As well, many people end up getting seriously sunburned - another injury that is preventable.

Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke

It's easy to confuse the two, but there is a big difference between them. Heat stroke is the more serious of the two but heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke with shocking speed. Someone who is experiencing heat exhaustion may experience:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cramping muscles
  • Headache
  • Being pale
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Light headedness or dizziness, perhaps leading to fainting

They also may feel nauseated, begin to vomit.

This is a serious situation and the best thing to do for someone who is experiencing heat exhaustion is to get him or her out of the heat and into a cool place. If this isn't possible, a shaded area and/or somewhere with a breeze will help a bit, at least. At this point, as long as the person is coherent enough to swallow without choking, he or she needs water or a rehydration drink - not anything with alcohol or caffeine.

Cool sprinkles of water or a shower will also help make the person cooler. This does not mean a dunk in a cold swimming pool or in a cold shower. Cool is the word - not cold!

Heat stroke is the more serious of the two conditions. At this point, the body has overheated and can no longer cool itself off. That means, no more sweating. The body has decided that it takes too much effort to sweat and it can't afford to make that effort any more.

Signs of heat stroke include:

  • No more sweating
  • A higher than normal body temperature
  • Red, dry skin
  • Fast pulse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Disorientation, agitation
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you are with someone who has developed heat stroke, treat him or her as you would for heat exhaustion, but also call 911 for emergency help as this is a true medical emergency.

So, how do we prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke? By being smart!

The most important thing to remember is to stay hydrated. That means drinking water or other non-caffeine or non-alcohol fluid even if you don't feel thirsty. Constantly drink the fluid to maintain your body's hydration levels.

Other tips include:

  • Avoid strenuous activity, particularly outside. If you must work outside, try to avoid the hottest times of the day, usually between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

  • Wear light-weight clothing, a hat and sunglasses. Bring back the age of the parasol and use an umbrella to shield yourself from the sun.

  • While inside, if you don't have air conditioning, keep your blinds or curtains closed, particularly windows facing the sun.

  • Stay in the lower levels of your home if possible, as they are usually the coolest.

  • If you don't have air conditioning and your home is too hot, seek out shelter at a local mall. Call your city or official offices to find out if there are specific areas that are specifically designated as havens during heat waves.

  • Friends and neighbors - check in on people who are living alone, particularly the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. They are at increased risk of having difficulty managing the heat.

Stay safe this summer. While it may not always be so easy to avoid getting too hot, if you know what to do and what signs to watch for, you could avoid a tragedy.


Sue Ann Bowling said...

The hottest part of the day is after solar noon, not during. Also, the key is solar noon. If your time zone is accurate, that's around 1 pm during daylight saving time. Here in Alaska, solar noon is now about 2 pm, so the hottest part of the day is 2-4 pm. (And yes, it does get hot here.)

Babette said...

Great tips. Worth the reminders.

bookworm said...

I used to live in a hot climate (Wichita, KS, in the Plains) and my husband had an outdoor job - these conditions were always a threat. More recently, we went to Virginia for a Civil War reenactment last July-just in time for temperatures in excess of 104 degrees. The reenactors were dressed in the style of 150 years ago - wool uniforms, long skirts - we saw at least one spectator overcome by the heat, in the process of receiving first aid. Sobering.

Unknown said...

This is always a problem here in Arizona. Always. It never fails that people come from out of town and want to hike our trails in the summer...when it's well over 100 degrees outside before 9 a.m! I live across from a mountain preserve, and there are always helicopters flying overhead to rescue hikers who failed to bring enough water. Plus, they don't realize they should get out there before 5 a.m., in the summer. If you're still out there at 7 a.m., it's just too hot. We also have crazy nuts who think jogging during their summer lunch hour is smart. It's not. It's dumb! Ugh! There are never enough warnings for these people. Never. Still, that shouldn't stop anyone from issuing them, so I'm glad you did. People die from heat exposure. That really happens. And soda is not a proper hydration drink, either. That's something else some guy from back East once brought in his backpack on a hike -- and he was the guide! OMG!