The Hardin County Health Department is trying to reduce deaths and life-threatening conditions caused by summer heat. With temperatures reaching into the 90s in much of the state, county residents and visitors are urged to use caution and take preventive steps to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
“While the elderly, children and those with existing health issues are most at risk, extreme heat can affect anyone,” said Hardin County Health Department Director Pattie Kiddy. “We want to remind everyone about ways to prevent heat-related illnesses and how to address them if they do occur.
“It’s also important to help protect others who may be especially vulnerable to heat-related health problems,” Pattie continued. “Check on friends and neighbors who may be alone, or may be reluctant to ask for help. This simple action can help prevent an emergency and save someone’s life.”
Here are some ways to stay safe and healthy in extreme heat:
Drink plenty of fluids. Pay attention to your thirst and drink cool liquids before you get very thirsty. Water is good, and sugar-free sports drinks can help replace lost salt and minerals. Avoid drinks with caffeine, which can cause the body to lose water. Avoid alcohol, which can dehydrate the body and impair your ability to think clearly, preventing recognition of heat distress signals.
Do not leave people or pets in cars for any length of time. Cars can heat to life-threatening temperatures in just a few minutes.
Stay cool indoors. If your home has more than one story, the lowest level will usually be cooler. Turn off unnecessary heat-generating items such as televisions and lights, and use fans if you have them. Consider cooking with a microwave instead of heating up the kitchen with the stove or oven. Take cool showers or baths. If your home doesn’t have air conditioning, take advantage of air conditioned facilities such as shopping venues, restaurants, senior centers, libraries and recreation centers.
Limit time outside. If you must be outside, wear light colored clothing, a hat and sunscreen, and seek shade whenever possible. Try to run errands early or late in the day when temperatures are cooler. Drink water and sports drinks often; hydration will help prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Pace yourself if working or exercising outdoors. Try to work during early morning or evening hours to avoid being outside in the hottest part of the day. If you’re not used to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and gradually increase effort. If your heart is pounding or you gasp for breath, stop the activity and rest in a cool, shady area.
Use the buddy system. Partner with a friend and watch each other for signs of heat-related illness. Senior citizens are more susceptible, so if you know someone over age 65, check on him or her over the phone twice a day.
Heat exhaustion is caused when body fluids and electrolytes get depleted, and usually occurs in extreme heat or when a person is unable to adapt to heat. Signs of heat exhaustion include weakness, nausea, cramps and sometimes loss of consciousness. If you or someone else has these symptoms, move to a cool place; loosen clothing; put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath; and sip water. If you or someone else with these symptoms starts throwing up, symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour, get medical help right away.
Heat stroke is a more serious condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels. During a heat stroke, the body’s cooling system and sweating stop and can damage the brain and other organs. Signs of heat stroke include short, rapid breathing; fast pulse; lack of sweating and confusion. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, so call 911 right away if you or someone else has these symptoms. Take immediate steps to get the person to a cooler area and help lower body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath until more help arrives.