Limit exposure to heat, sun to prevent illness

It’s hot outside — stay cool, stay hydrated and stay informed.

Extremely high or unusually hot temperatures can affect your health. On average, 675 deaths from extreme-heat events occur each year in the United States. People suffer heat-related illness when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded.

The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Most vulnerable are the elderly, those who work or exercise outdoors, infants and children, the homeless or poor, and people with a chronic medical condition.

Take the necessary precautions to prevent serious health effects such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure, and those working or exercising in a hot environment.

The best defense is prevention. Here are some prevention tips:

■ Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask your doctor how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

■ Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar, these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

■ Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library — even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.

■ Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.

■ Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

■ Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.

■ Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on infants and young children, people 65 or older, people who have a mental illness and those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure.

■ Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

If you must be out in the heat:

■ Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.

■ Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Remember the warning in the first “tip,” too.

■ Try to rest often in shady areas.

■ Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).

Always be sure you stay informed.

■ Check your local news for extreme heat warnings and safety tips.

■ Keep your friends, family and neighbors aware of weather and heat safety information.

For more information on extreme heat, visit www.cdc.gov/Features/ExtremeHeat/index.html.

To Your Health is written by the staff of Boulder City Hospital. For more information, call 702-293-4111, ext. 576, or visit bouldercityhospital.org.

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