Tennesseans Can Protect Themselves Against Heat-Related Illnesses

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 | 07:00pm

 Nashville, July 19, 2006

The dog days of summer have arrived in Tennessee and Tennesseans need to make wise decisions to protect themselves against heat-related illnesses. 

In 2004, 96 people were hospitalized for heat stroke and six died, while 1,021 people visited the emergency room. Heat stroke, the most life-threatening heat-related illness, occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature, rising quickly without the ability to cool down. If emergency treatment is not provided, heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability. Symptoms include body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit; red, hot and dry skin without sweating; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and loss of consciousness.

“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are a common, yet preventable, problem in Tennessee,” said State Epidemiologist Allen Craig, M.D. “With temperatures reaching record levels this week, it is imperative that people know not only the signs of heat-related illnesses, but know how to prevent heat-related illnesses.”

Call for immediate medical assistance if you believe you or another person is experiencing heat stroke. While waiting on emergency assistance, get the victim to a shady area, cool them rapidly using cool water and monitor body temperature until it reaches 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and do not give the victim any fluids to drink.

Other heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion (a less severe form of heat stroke), heat cramps sunburn and heat rash. Although heat-related illnesses differ from each other, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer a few simple steps to avoid these preventable illnesses.

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. Remember to consume non-alcoholic, low-sugar drinks in hot weather.
  • Replace salt and minerals. Heavy sweating from increased temperatures can deplete your body’s salt and minerals. Non-alcoholic drinks, like sports drinks, can help you replenish these reserves.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, as well as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection. Wear SPF 15 or higher sunscreen everyday.
  • Schedule outdoor activities carefully. Try to limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours with rest breaks in shady areas, if available.
  • Pace yourself. If you are unaccustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and increase effort gradually. If your heart is pounding or you are gasping for breath, stop the activity and rest in a cool, shady area.
  • Stay cool indoors. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the mall or library to cool off. Cool showers or baths, as well as keeping your stove and oven off are other ways to cool down inside.
  • Use the buddy system. Partner with a friend and watch for signs of heat-related illness in each other. Senior citizens are more susceptible so if you are over 65, ask a friend to check on you over the phone twice a day. If you know someone in this age group, remember to check on them at least twice a day.
  • Monitor those at high risk. Infants and children under four years old, people over 65, people who are overweight, those who overexert themselves during work or exercise and people who are physically ill (especially who have heart disease or high blood pressure, taking certain medication, suffer from insomnia, depression or poor circulation) are especially at risk.

For more information about heat-related illnesses, including prevention and treatment tips, visit the CDC’s Extreme Heat Safety Web site at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp.

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