It's summertime and the hot weather seems to be here to stay for a while. Hot weather is not only uncomfortable, it can be deadly. When temperatures rise, people need to take extra precautions.
The human body reacts to excessive heat in three ways -- heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat cramps are the mildest reaction. They occur when the salt or potassium lost in sweat is not replaced.
Heat exhaustion is more severe and means the body's cooling system is overloaded, but hasn't shut down. Symptoms can include heavy sweating, headache, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps and fatigue.
Heat stroke occurs when the body's cooling system has shut down. Symptoms include high body temperature; red, hot and dry skin; rapid, strong pulse and headache, dizziness and nausea.
Heat stroke is a 911 situation and can cause severe and permanent damage to vital organs.
Studies indicate that, other things being equal, the severity of heat disorders tends to increase with age. Conditions that cause heat cramps in a 17-year-old may result in heat exhaustion in someone 40 years old, and in heat stroke in a person over 60.
Elderly people -- those aged 65 years and older -- are more prone to heat stress than younger people, as the elderly do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature. They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat.
Also, they are more likely to take prescription medicines that diminish the body's ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.
While hot weather conditions exist, take the following steps to reduce the risk of heat-related illness.
* Slow down. Reduce, eliminate or re-schedule strenuous activities until the coolest time of the day. Children, seniors and anyone with health problems should stay in the coolest available place, which might not be indoors.
* Dress for summer. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect heat and sunlight.
* Drink plenty of water, non-alcoholic and decaffeinated fluids even if you don't feel thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. People who have epilepsy or heart, kidney or liver disease, are on fluid restrictive diets or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a physician before increasing their consumption of fluids. Extremely cold liquids can cause cramps. Do not drink alcoholic beverages and limit caffeinated beverages.
* Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
* During excessive heat periods, spend more time in air-conditioned places. Air conditioning in homes and other buildings reduces danger from the heat. If you don't have an air conditioner, consider going to a library, store or a friend's home for part of the day.
* Don't get too much sun. Sunburn can significantly reduce the skin's ability to shed excess heat.
* Do not take salt tablets unless specified by a physician.
If you see any signs of severe heat stress, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the affected person.
* Get the person to a shady area.
* Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse in a tub of cool water; place in a cool shower; spray with cool water from a garden hose; sponge with cool water. If the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
* Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101--102 degrees Fahrenheit.
If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.