With summer around the corner and the warm temperatures we experienced earlier this month, keeping cool will be a priority. While heat-related illness is preventable, many people get sick, and even die, from extreme heat each year.
The two main factors affecting your body’s natural ability to cool itself are high humidity — because your sweat will not evaporate as quickly — and personal factors such as age, obesity, fever, dehydration and heart disease, to name just a few.
People ages 65 and over, children younger than two, and people with chronic disease and/or mental illness are most at risk for heat-related illness.
Children of all ages are especially susceptible to dehydration and heat-related illness because a child’s body surface area makes up a much greater proportion of his or her overall weight compared to an adult.
Early signs of dehydration include fatigue, thirst, dry lips and tongue, lack of energy and feeling overheated. But if kids wait to drink until they feel thirsty, they’re already dehydrated.
To prevent dehydration and heat-related illness in children, make sure they drink cool water early and often and follow the recommendations listed below.
If your child develops signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke (which can be fatal if left untreated), including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness, muscle pain, a temperature of 104 degrees or greater, lack of sweating, rapid breathing and heartbeat, confusion or unconsciousness, seek medical attention immediately.
To stay healthy and cool during the hot days to come, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following for people of all ages:
Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible. If your home is not air-conditioned, you can reduce your risk for heat-related illness by spending time in public facilities that are air-conditioned, and using air conditioning in vehicles.
Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during an extreme heat event.
Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
Take cool showers or baths to cool down.
Don’t use the stove or oven to cook — it will make you and your house hotter.
Limit outdoor activity, especially midday when the sun is hottest.
Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
Never leave children or pets in cars — not even for a few seconds or minutes. Even with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach 125 degrees within 10 minutes in 110 degree weather — a deadly temperature for humans and pets alike.
Get in the habit of always opening the back door to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle to make sure no child has been left behind. The majority of heat stroke deaths are accidental and preventable.
Check on a friend or neighbor and have someone do the same for you.
Seek medical care immediately if you or loved one has symptoms of heat-related illness, such as a body temperature of 103 degrees or higher; hot, red, dry or damp skin; fast strong pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion or loss of consciousness.
(Erin Guiliano, DO, provides a full range of primary care for patients of all ages at Samaritan Health Center in Newport.)