Archive for Saturday, June 23, 2001

Pay heed to the heat

Summer sun, humidity can pose health risk

June 23, 2001


Kansans know firsthand the discomforts of hot summer days, like humid mornings when a walk from the parking lot to the office breaks a sweat.

Or hot afternoon breezes that compound the high temperature to make the outdoors feel like a convection oven.

But spending time outside in hot weather can be more than just uncomfortable it can prove deadly, too.

An average of 318 Americans die from heat-related illness each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's a tragedy, health experts say, because most of these deaths could be prevented if people took heat illness more seriously.

For millions of people particularly active children, athletes, outdoor workers and the elderly dehydration can lead to illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heatstroke and, in some cases, death.

The good news is that staying safe and healthy can be as easy as learning the warning signs of heat illness, and knowing when it's important to seek medical attention.

Degrees of danger

The number of heat-related illnesses naturally spikes with temperatures.

"Usually when you see it is when we have a sudden break where it gets real hot pow, all of a sudden you're into 90-degree days," said Dr. Paul Loney, who works in Lawrence Memorial Hospital's emergency department.

Many people underestimate the dangers of heat, Loney said.

"And it doesn't have to be 105 degrees outside for it to happen," he said.

Degrees of heat-related illness range from heat exposure the least serious to heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

People affected by heatstroke have a markedly elevated body temperature that causes altered mental status, fluid-balance problems and internal organ dysfunction, Loney said.

It's a life-threatening situation that requires immediate attention.

"You go into real vigorous cooling measures," he said. "You strip them down, mist them (with water), put a fan on them and give lots of I.V. fluids. Luckily, a full-blown heatstroke is something we don't see all that often."

More common is heat exposure, which is easier to treat get out of the hot weather and start drinking cool fluids.

"Gatorade is good, but the best thing is water, unless you're going to be working out for an extended period of time," said Jeff Fries, a certified athletic trainer with Kreider Rehabilitation Services.

"If you're in a marathon, a sports drink will help to replace your electrolytes," he said. "But for the average person, water is the best thing."

Signs of distress

Heat-related illness poses a special threat for children.

"This is especially true for the very young, because their temperature-regulating mechanism isn't fully developed," said John Drees, a community education specialist at the hospital and coordinator of the Douglas County Safe Kids Coalition.

When it's hot, keep an eye on children for any signs of distress, such as panting or a red face. Encourage them to drink water or other hydrating beverages every 15 minutes.

The No. 1 precaution adults must remember: "Children absolutely can't be left unattended in motor vehicles," Drees said.

The temperature in a car with its windows rolled up will rise dangerously in a short time, placing children in immediate peril of heatstroke.

People aren't the only ones who shouldn't be in sealed cars during hot weather.

Pet owners need to take similar precautions with their animals.

"Keep pets out of cars," said Bryan Stancliffe, a veterinarian with Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital, 4340 Clinton Parkway. "A dog in a car with the window up can get into a heatstroke situation very quickly."

He also suggests walking the dog when it's cooler early morning or late evening.

"And you want to have cold water and shade available to pets at all times," Stancliffe said.

Pet owners should call their veterinarians at once if they suspect their animal is suffering heatstroke, he added.

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