Stay cool and safe while the temperatures rise
Published 2:46 pm Thursday, July 13, 2023
Summer is my favorite season for a variety of reasons.
It’s the time of year when the days are long, and you can enjoy sitting on your porch for hours in the evening. It’s the time of year for school breaks and vacations and all sorts of the best kinds of traveling. It’s the time of year for comfy shorts and tank tops and sunglasses. It’s the time of year for fresh garden vegetables and sweet desserts and ice-cold lemonade.
But, on the other hand, the problem with summer is that it’s HOT. Sometimes, extremely so! And though most of us may be used to the hot and humid heat of North Carolina, we’re not always immune to its effects, especially as temperatures seem to climb more and more each year to dangerous levels.
Regular readers of our newspaper hopefully caught a recent article featuring advice from the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) on ways to avoid heat-related illnesses.
If you missed it, those tips include increasing your fluid intake and taking frequent breaks (in cool and shady or air-conditioned spaces) when spending extended time outside. You should also check on your neighbors during extreme heat, and never leave children and pets unattended in vehicles. Temperatures inside your vehicle can quickly get even hotter than it is outside.
NCDHHS also shared information about cooling assistance programs that can help people who qualify including the Crisis Intervention Program and Operation Fan Heat Relief. Check with your local Department of Social Services and Office of Aging, respectively, for more information about those programs.
But why should we take extra care of ourselves in the heat? Well, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, heat kills more Americans than any other weather event, even though most of those deaths are preventable through outreach and intervention.
Extreme heat can cause a number of health concerns, even in people who are otherwise quite healthy. Heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.
Heat rash – the least severe of these illness – is a skin irritation from excessive sweating, and can be recognized by red clusters of small bumps on the neck, upper chest, elbow creases, and other similar places on the body.
Treatment includes moving to a cooler environment, keeping the rash dry, and applying powder. (Ointments or creams can make it worse.)
Heat cramps are muscle cramps or spasms in the abdomen or arms or legs. Treatment includes drinking fluids every 15 to 20 minutes (can be water or a sports drink with electrolytes) and avoiding salt tablets.
Heat cramps can sometimes be the first sign of heat exhaustion, so get medical help if the person has cramps longer than an hour or already has a heart condition.
Heat syncope is a fainting or dizziness episode after standing too long or suddenly rising from a sitting/lying position. Dehydration can be a contributing factor to experiencing this, so treatment includes sitting in a cool place and slowly drinking water, clear juice, or a sports drink.
Heat exhaustion is a severe illness marked by headache, nausea, dizziness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, and elevated body temperature. It’s caused by the body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt through excessive sweating.
First aid includes calling for medical help, removing the person from the heat and giving them liquids (frequent sips of cool water), removing unnecessary clothing, and cooling the person with water, cold compresses, an ice bath, or fans.
Heat stroke is the most serious of all the heat-related illnesses because the body is unable to cool down, and can be fatal if treatment is delayed. Symptoms include confusion and altered mental state and slurred speech, loss of consciousness, hot dry skin, seizures, and very high body temperature.
If someone is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 immediately and do no leave them unattended. Move the person to a cooler area and remove outer clothing. Cool the person with cold water or an ice bath (if possible), placing cold wet cloths on the skin, soaking clothing in cool water, and circulating air around the person to speed cooling.
How should we avoid all these heat illnesses? As noted earlier in this column, staying hydrated and taking breaks from the heat are helpful. Other recommendations include wearing lightweight and loose-fitting clothes, staying in shaded areas when outdoors, wearing sunscreen, avoiding sugary and alcoholic drinks, limiting outdoor time to morning or evening hours, and spending as much time in an air-conditioned place as possible. (If you don’t have a functioning AC at home, spend some time in a public place with it instead, such as a library or a store.)
For more extensive information on the topic, visit cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.html
We’ve already had some heat advisories this past week, and unfortunately, I’m sure there will be more as summer continues. Keep an eye on weather-related news and check in on neighbors, friends, and family, especially those at higher risk for heat illnesses.
Let’s all take care to keep ourselves cool and safe, so everyone is able to enjoy summer to the fullest.
Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7206.