Heat illness is major health threat

JANS – Soaring temperatures and high humidity remind us: Hot weather can kill. Stan Alford, operations manager for American Medical Response ambulance service, said, “Even the healthiest among us can suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke, but elders, children up to four years of age, chronically ill individuals, obese people and substance abusers are more vulnerable.” Alford said, “There are specific ways to prevent heat illness, and, when prevention fails, we all need to know how to help the victim quickly.” Alford advised: Heat illness can occur inside as well as outside, especially in buildings with no air conditioning or ventilation. A major key to avoiding heat illness is to drink lots of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids, continuously. Water and commercial “sports drinks” are best. Drink no alcohol and avoid drinking large quantities of caffeine, since alcohol and, to a lesser extent, caffeine make the body lose fluid, not store it. If you have no salt restrictions in your diet, mix one teaspoon of salt in each quart of water you drink. Avoid strenuous activity if possible, and start taking in the fluids well before you begin any strenuous effort. Keep taking in the fluids throughout the day and evening. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Work outside only in the cooler morning and evening hours, if possible. Take frequent breaks and stay in the shade as much as you can. Wear loose fitting, light colored clothing made of fabric that “breathes.” Wear a broad-brimmed, loose weave hat and take it off from time to time. If you’re out walking, use an umbrella or parasol. If your home has no air conditioning, spend the hottest hours of the day in a library, shopping mall, senior center or other public facility that is air conditioned. In a heat wave, friends and family of elderly or disabled people should check on them frequently. The signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating with cool, clammy sometimes pale skin; headache, dizziness or light-headedness, nausea, vomiting, irritability, weak pulse and rapid but shallow breathing. Body temperature is usually normal or only slightly elevated. First aid for heat exhaustion is to move the person to a nearby cooler place. Have the person lie down and elevate the feet eight to 12 inches. Loosen clothing and fan the victim without chilling him or her. If, and only if the person is fully alert, give sips of water. Gently massage cramps. Call 911 for paramedics. Full recovery usually takes several hours.